Lessons learned from a project post-mortem.

I was a team-member for a project which my organization would under-take annually.  The planning and preparation for the “go live” date would generally start in earnest 4 months out from the event (I frequently submitted that it should be more like 6 months out but it fell on deaf ears).  The project is a fund raising event and the team includes a marketing and PR person, a volunteer manager, a fund and resource development person, SMEs who contribute as advisers/consultants and the Executive Director/project manager.  The fund raising event in question was a success in some senses–feedback we received from the public was glowing and favorable.  But it was a failure in some respects; we fell a shy of our fund raising goal and we failed to fine tune some of the processes that we intended to pay close attention to that time around.  The timeline was just too cramped and left no room for iterative development, just full steam ahead even if the process wasn’t airtight.

What contributed to the success was the team’s awareness that presenting a united and polished front to the public was paramount.  Even if there were holes in the roll-out (i.e. one sponsor’s logo wasn’t included on the t-shirt, we under-shot the amount of shirts needed and had to send some participants shirts after the fact) we worked over-time to make sure that the good experiences outweighed the bad and everyone had a good time.

One thing that contributed to the failure was that we did not devote enough time to the planning of the event.  It was the 8th year of the event and the PM felt like some processes could be skipped and were on autopilot but that kind of thinking led to re-work, rushing and oversights.   I think back on the questions from the Project Management Minimalist and one really resonated with me because it is centered around an assertion that I (and several other team-members) put forth early on in the conception phase–we need to bring in another team-member, an event planner because the PM was inundated and distracted with the wearing of that particular hat.  Question #5  of the post-mortem review asks “could we have completed this project without one or more of our vendors/contractors? If so, how?” (Greer, 2010, p. 43).   In my opinion we definitely didn’t have any fat to trim but we desperately needed to consider adding a member to the team.

The Summary & Checklist: 10 steps to project success (Greer, p. 45) lists “Estimate time, effort, and resources” as the 5th step.   A more careful and comprehensive discussion  around these items would have undoubtedly made the project more successful as it would’ve beeen made clear that we needed more time and we needed to acquire other resources (event planner) so that the PM could have the support in that area and not be the only accountable.


Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

3 thoughts on “Lessons learned from a project post-mortem.

  1. It sounds like, as you suggested, that an event planner would have greatly helped the project. Also, it sounds like beginning the planning process (even if it is informal pre-planning) would help, as you stated.

  2. Thank you for sharing this experience. My organization has a training program that is redesigned annually so I am familiar with the process you speak of. We begin the project approximately 6 months in advance of the “go live” date and this has been extended over the years. Like you, I wonder why we don’t start earlier knowing the challenges we may face when we launch the project. Several components of the program change year over year so it makes for a frustrating process if we do not designate the correct amount of time. In our situation, one person served as both the program and project manager. This proved to be very difficult to manage all of the tasks needed. As you suggest here, we had to add an official project manager to this annual process to make it successful. For derivative projects such as these, it is easy to underestimate the amount of work or resources required to execute. It’s a good thing that we learn from our experiences, well at least most of us!

  3. For some annual volunteer projects I have been a part of, planning starts the day of the end of the last event with a post-mortem as part of the event. It sounds like your organization really should consider having at least a 6-month window to capture all the little details that are missed. Hopefully, next year works smoother!

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