I've come up with a list of six ways we can be doing this on each project or in our project management careers. Taking these steps sooner rather than later can really pay off I'm not saying it will be easy... please consider...
Survey meeting attendees by email. We are conducting meetings all the time on our projects, but are we doing it well? Are our meeting attendees getting a lot out of these meetings? Could we be doing a better job at facilitating our project meetings and sharing or disseminating information? Try surveying your project meeting attendees at various points throughout the engagement. And don't force the survey on the same group every time (like your project team). Survey your team, survey the project customer, survey other key stakeholders. Try to hit each group two or more times throughout a long engagement and see how the results compare. Are you improving? Be sure to ask questions that all for good feedback...not just yes or no questions.
Conduct lessons learned sessions in mid-project. I realize it's hard enough to find the time and availability of project team members to get everyone together for a post-project lessons learned session. However, I strongly recommend instead conducting several lessons learned sessions throughout the project – likely following a major project milestone or the rollout of a key project deliverable. These are often short pause points in a project allowing for time to slot in a short lessons learned session. Trust me, you may often gain very valuable insight that will not only help you on future projects but on this current project, as well.
Analyze your estimating and forecasting accuracy with your project team. How well we estimate time, effort and cost on projects is an important ongoing consideration. The project manager is often having discussions with the project sponsor and doesn't always have access to his team when discussing things like change orders, proposed next projects, etc. So, when possible, it's a good idea for the project manager to work on sharpening his estimating skills periodically...and on technical engagements or really any project engagements...the best way to do that is to work through estimating efforts with his entire team.
Survey customer satisfaction at the end of each engagement. On bad projects this will be hard to do. On good projects, this might be fun. But do it either way – the truth helps and going to the customer and asking tough questions about your team's performance will tell them a lot about you and your delivery organization. Often this comes out in lessons learned sessions, but we know from experience and surveys that lessons learned sessions happen far less often than they should.
Force yourself to do project postmortems to senior management. The next worse thing to going to the customer to learn what you did right and wrong is to go to your senior management with a project post-mortem discussion. If everything went well, it will be easy. But we know this is rarely the case. There are always issues and discussing them with your leadership can be a humbling experience. But trust me, it will help you grow as a project manager and also gain visibility with your senior leadership. Could be win-win.
Summary / call for input
The concept here is we never hit perfection. You may feel like you have, but you're fooling yourself. We can always improve and we need to always be striving to improve. If you don't feel this need, then you probably should move on to a different career. How about our readers? What are your tips you can share as ways of improving yourself as a project manager?