Project Management Lessons Learned - why we do them, why we don't and the concept of incorporating lessons learned throughout an engagement. You will want to watch this one. My most popular video so far.
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When project team members are at each other's throats, the Project Manager must act fast to resolve. Onboarding new team members is a costly way to go, so communication and resolution is best. Here is my SLAP method...with a little help from 4 of my kids.
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Are you working remotely? If not, many of your colleagues are or perhaps much of your project team or maybe your entire customer's staff. It's a fact in 2020 and these chaotic, riotous and pandemic times, but it is likely going to be our reality for the short-term and possibly the long-term. Watch this latest Real PM video and learn why I am thinking that way.
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Lessons learned. In theory, it sounds like a great tool for increasing project success going forward. You gather everyone together at the end of the project and discuss what was good, what was bad, and what could have or should have been done differently. You examine the bumps along the way – trying to remember details back 3 months, 6 months, and sometimes maybe 2 years to examine incidents of issues and risks and how things were handled. And if it was a tough project, sitting across the table from a critical customer or across the phone line from a critical customer can be a tough cross to bear for the project manager and team.
I took a survey awhile back of project managers and project professionals to see how lessons learned were being carried out. It may not surprise you that 57% were either never conducting them or conducting them less than 10% of the time. That's not a very good number. It's tough to learn a lot of lessons that way, isn't it? Why is this happening...what is the root cause? I have my theories...though I probably should have conducted a follow-up survey. Let's examine...
Here are the downsides of lessons learned and why I think they often don't happen...
So, the big question is this... is a lessons learned session all that necessary to improved performance on the next project and the one after that and so on? Do we really need it and do we benefit from it? That is a question best answered personally by every project manager reading this right now. My quick answer is “yes” even though I often have missed conducting the lessons learned session myself. I can say that when I have conducted them, I have found the takeaways to be helpful. In my case, it has usually been missed just because it's been very difficult to bring the team and customer back to the table post-implementation to discuss such matters.
What can we do to make it happen?
So how can we fix this? A corporate mandate to “make it happen” on the lessons learned topic? Well, sure...but often it's those same people who mandated it that also demand you get started asap on the next project with the next very important project customer. Waiting till the end, when the team is handing the solution off to technical support, shaking hands with the exiting customer and ensuring that their end user base is well-informed and has the documentation and training necessary to successful use the end solution, and preparing themselves for their next assignment doesn't seem like a winning idea. What could we do differently to make it happen?
I propose – and have successful tried – conducting lessons learned throughout the project. How? Build them into the schedule at times that make sense for your projects. For me, that has been at points in the project schedule where a major milestone is completed or a key deliverable is handed to the customer. It makes sense that when a phase has just been completed and a deliverable is sent to the client, that would be a good time to look at what just happened and how it went. Advantages include...
Summary / call for input
The bottom line is this... in my opinion lessons learned are really necessary. And they make good, logical, professional sense. Will they always happen? No. But by incorporating them in the current project they will be more likely to happen and the benefits of them will be realized sooner.
Readers...what are your thoughts? Do you always conduct lessons learned sessions or has it been problematic for you to get everyone together post-project to discuss? Have you tried this? After reading this, are you considering giving this a trial on your next engagement? Please share your thoughts and discuss.
I recently read about a Copenhagen-based startup that has developed artificial intelligence (AI) that can listen in on emergency 911 calls and help dispatchers detect victims of cardiac arrest.
When you are in cardiac arrest, every lost minute decreases your chance of survival by 10%, so any chance of saving those critical minutes in response to a possible cardiac arrest victim is extremely important. The AI in this case analyzes words and non-verbal sounds that indicate someone is in cardiac arrest. It is able to do that after it has trained itself to spot warning signs by analyzing a massive collection of emergency call recordings over a period of time. In one study, it was found that this startup's AI was able to detect cardiac arrest with a 95% accuracy, compared to 73% for Copenhagen’s human dispatchers.
If AI can save lives like this – apparently 22% more accurately than humans can – can it save or improve project delivery? Probably. Is it cost effective or cost prohibitive? I'm not sure... likely cost prohibitive at the moment but I'm betting that will change in the not too distant future. How would you use it to improve project delivery in your organization? Well, this is where probably gets sort of out there and it's more like playing a project management “wishing” game than dwelling in the real world at the moment.
So, let's play. Let's look at five ways I've been considering - assuming project and PMO budget isn't necessarily an issue...
If AI can listen to 911 dispatch calls and recognize signs of cardiac arrest in potential call in victims, then surely it can be similarly trained to listen in on project status calls and detect confident and concerned tones in both the customer team and the project delivery team. Lots of comments happen during those critical weekly calls – certainly an AI tool could learn to detect concerned responses and probably even detect honest answers and when a respondent was holding back. Change it into a video conference and AI can detect facial expressions and non-verbal communications. That's when it can really provide some key benefits – though it would feel a little big-brotherish. Like the Planet P Project song... “they've got the cutest little cameras hanging everywhere... after awhile you just forget they're there...”
AI could listen to team meetings and collect all of the status update information and – assuming everything is configured correctly – update things like the project schedule, issues list, risk ledger, change orders and other key project information with latest and greatest progress and status info. From that, it could probably do a great job of creating a standard agenda and status report to use for the regular weekly status call mentioned above. I'm sure this sounds as if it were going to be replacing the human project manager, but that should never be the case, no matter how advanced AI becomes.
AI should be able to eavesdrop on status calls with the client and other key calls and emails and sort out discussions that seem to have requests that are out of scope. Having the AI “learn” everything about the project – including the detailed requirements as documented during early planning - to understand the current scope at any point in time would allow it to recognize discussions that were leaning towards work that would actually be out of scope for the project. It could then automatically create suggested draft change orders for the project manager and team to review and modify before presenting to the project client. With the input of proper costing and historical estimating and actuals for similar work, it could probably do a very good job of coming up with an initial estimate as well. Learning over time would only serve to tighten that estimate.
Anything we can have AI track on the project likely ensures more accuracy, more potential for help with solutions as the AI learns the issue tracking and reporting processes as well as understanding the goals and mission of the project, the milestones, and the technology in use. Think about it, the possibilities are endless. Would all of this change project management as we know it? Definitely. Would project managers become expendable? I don't think so and I certainly hope not. It will be a scary “Rollerball” type society if we allow too much AI takeover.
Just as AI could assist in issue tracking, it could be invaluable for identifying, tracking, assessing and managing the whole risk process throughout the project. AI learns and grows and as it takes in more data on one project and all projects in a company's portfolio, the data and history that AI could develop and retain on all projects could be invaluable to a company's success.
Summary / Call For Input
AI. Project management. Are we at a point where we are ready to combine the two? I doubt it. I think the overall cost is too prohibitive at this point – at least to a point where we can price it in as a genuine project expense and justify it to a client. If our organization is utilizing artificial intelligence currently and we want to incorporate it into the PM process then that's one option. But to seek AI at this stage and justify the cost of the technology and the personnel to develop, modify and incorporate through training and ongoing maintenance and oversight... likely that would be $500,000 - $1 million per year for awhile, if not more.
It's probably going to be hard or impossible to justify unless we are looking at something very high end, very cutting edge and very evolving – possibly like NASA's space program or any one of a number of medical fields, organizations and pharmaceutical suppliers. They may all have the money or the means to get it funded. Your average professional services delivery organization will not have that kind of money and time and resources in 2020.
Readers – what's your take? It's unlikely that many, if any, of us have actually touched AI technology so far in our technical careers or project management initiatives. If you have, I'd like to hear from you - please share any experiences you've had with AI and your thoughts on it's uses now and in the not too distant future helping organizations really win on projects... not just “do a little better.” Are there applications for it in PM? Share your thoughts and opinions.
It's not uncommon to hear that an organization is ISO compliant but not ISO certified. Some use the two terms interchangeably, but they describe different processes. They are both voluntary acts and have similar goals, but it's important to understand the differences.
In addition, learn about the specific ISO standards in question as there are over 22,000 standards. Therefore, if a company says that they are ISO certified, you want to ask the specific standard they are talking about. If they say that they are ISO 9001 certified, be sure to ask which year/version. This is because there have been three ISO 9001 versions; the first version was ISO 9001:2000, the second version was ISO 9001:2008, and the current version is ISO 9001:2015.
For your company to be considered ISO certified, you have to complete the certification process, which involves audits by a qualified third party. The process sounds simple, but it is rigorous as the auditors will assess your processes and document the relevant details before presenting their findings to the ISO.
Organizations that seek to become ISO 9001 certified must meet the ISO requirements, which typically revolves around meeting the customers' expectations. The process typically takes 2 months or more, and there is no guarantee that your company will become certified. In addition, the certification is only viable for three years, and after they lapse, you'll undergo the process again to become recertified.
If your company does meet the requirement, they’ll not become recertified. This is why companies need to embrace a sustainable approach that allows them to achieve and maintain certification.
Becoming certified has its benefits as it means that your company has been assessed by an external auditor who has verified that you're compliant with ISO 9001 standards. With this certification, you can easily prove to your customers or other interested parties that you're compliant. The level of audits and scrutiny from clients who prefer to purchase high-quality products from their suppliers is greatly reduced.
Since the goal of ISO 9001 certification is to meet customer expectations and satisfaction, companies may choose to be compliant instead of completing the entire process and becoming certified.
When a company says that they’re ISO 9001 compliant, it means they’ve adhered to requirements of the said standards. It’s cheaper to become compliant than to achieve certification as it excludes the cost of certification audits.
Companies can, however, hire an internal auditor to assess whether they meet the standards. The internal audit is voluntary, and some companies might opt not to audit. Instead, the company can wait until one of their clients audits their quality management system and claim that the said client deemed their QMS to be compliant. That's the problem with being compliant because your clients will occasionally ask to audit your QMS before you can proceed with a business transaction. However, when you're certified, you have proof that you're compliant with the standards. In addition, companies that claim to be compliant may not accurately document the processes that the company took become compliant.
Which is better? ISO Compliance or Certification?
Of course, ISO certification has its perks as you can use their unique certification mark to assure your clients that your products or services are in with the ISO standards. However, this doesn't mean that ISO compliance isn't good enough. If you're a small business, you can comply with the ISO standards without necessarily trying to achieve certification.
You can wait until your budget allows you to seek certification, and in the meantime, you can implement the relevant ISO requirements. Occasionally, you can conduct internal audits as well as management reviews to assess whether you're compliant. These reviews and audits will help you track your compliance progress in case you decided to seek certification.
If you are the client who is doing business with a company that claims to be ISO compliant, you might want to assess if they're genuinely compliant. This is because anyone can claim to be compliant, but it doesn't mean that they are. You can confirm if they are compliant by conducting an audit.
Even when a company is certified, it doesn’t mean that all its processes are compliant, it means that the company has implemented the requirements and documented it. If the company documents everything accurately, they have an easy time implementing corrective action where needed.
Although ISO certification isn’t a legal requirement, your business will benefit from being compliant and ultimately achieving certification. Think of the substantial improvements in efficiency and success that your business will enjoy once you become certified and remain compliant.
Recently, as I was sitting down working during the afternoon in Las Vegas with the temperature soaring to high above 100˚ waiting on the air conditioning repair guy to show up to fix one of our units that apparently died at an inopportune time in the middle of the current heat wave, I’m pondering this notion. Licensed. Bonded. Insured. I want the first warm body that can fix our A/C right now. My wife is concerned about letting just any stranger in to work in the attic of our house without giving him a lie detector test first. She wants me to make sure that he’s licensed, bonded and insured. I get that…because….well, wasn’t there a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode about a contractor who would put little cameras up in his clients’ attics and then later came back to commit heinous crimes at the homes?
Anyway, it does make you think…do you want just anyone that can step in to apparently ‘get the job done’? Or do you want to make sure that they are licensed, bonded and insured? Figuratively speaking, of course. And for project management, do you need a certified project manager to handle the job or will just any relatively experienced individual do? The answer probably is somewhere in the middle…or more likely….’it depends’.
Let’s consider what I think are the three levels of need for project or project-type initiatives…
Experience, experience, experience. For your highest dollar, mission critical, absolutely ‘must get it done and get it done right’ projects…go with experience. These don’t come along that often. Well, there are plenty of them out there, but for an average organization there’s probably not more than three or four of these going on at any given time…maybe even only one. For these it doesn’t matter whether the project manager is certified or not…what matters is that they have the experience to succeed. That means they can manage the project and team and be counted on to have their head in the game at all times. They can represent the organization well and handle any key function or public address that such an engagement might require. Their leadership and reputation is above reproach and you know that when you hand them a project that if they don’t end up succeeding…then it’s pretty likely that no one else could have possibly succeeded either.
Give me someone certifiable. There are times – more so on government contracts that have this requirement as part of an agreement – when a certified project manager just has to be the choice. Or your organization is making such a push in that direction that hiring anyone who wasn’t certified would be hypocritical. I feel that experience always trumps certification, but I understand when the call must be for a certified project manager. Certification documents some key experience, an understanding of approved methodology and practices, and a common language among project managers. There are times when it just makes good business sense to go this route and only this route.
A warm body will do. Finally, for this scenario you have a short-term project that just needs a leader. They may be a reluctant PM. They may be a one-time PM never to wear that hat again. Or they may be the least experienced PM you can ever imagine – just now starting out on their PM career adventure. The important thing is that you need someone at the helm and this is your man.
Some jobs call for the best. Some call for detailed career documentation to meet some sort of project criteria – just as some technical work requires certain levels of certification. And sometimes you just need someone who can logically do the job and at least fill the shoes for now. What we must do is understand that need and address it – finding the appropriate skill level, knowledge level, and experience level for the job.
By the way, in case you’re wondering…our air conditioning guy did show up and he was licensed. But he didn’t get the job done…he’s coming back tomorrow with a new circuit board so I’m holding out my opinion on his ability to do the job until our upstairs temperature is back to 78˚ where it needs to be.
Everyone likes sharing good news, everyone likes to congratulate people on a job well done. It’s happy. It’s upbeat. No one is down, sad, hurt. Good news makes everyone’s day.
Bad news…well…that’s the flip side. Giving bad news to family, friends, etc…no fun at all. Bad news to our management at work – makes me cringe…and depending on the news it can be a career-changer. Giving bad news to a customer…ouch. Will they drop the project, deem me incompetent, cancel my consulting engagement? It’s not something I ever look forward to - I doubt that anyone really looks forward to the bad news part of the job.
However, we all know deep down that honesty is the best policy and the customer is going to find out the bad stuff sooner or later. They better find it out from the project manager and it better come with some proposed plans of action attached. Otherwise we may find ourselves on the wrong end of a phone call from our CEO who just received a call from our project customer…and he won’t be happy.
So, when we’ve run into something big – some potential show-stopping issue or issues on our project and we must take action, alert our customer and get the project back on track, what steps to you take? What have you found to be the best process to figure what to do and get back on track as quickly as possible? From my experience, I’ve found that my best course of action is to follow four steps. These steps involve analyzing the situation to discover the issues, discussing the issues with management to make them aware, present the issues and courses of action to the customer, and then put the best plan of action into motion. Let’s each examine further...
Analyze and discover. I’m assuming – for this article that the issues were discovered by the project manager and the project delivery team…not the customer. At this point, the team must gather and analyze the situation or the issues that are halting the project. Gather the team to brainstorm, list the issues and identify potential resolutions or courses of action to take and do your best to prioritize each based on feasibility, cost / effort involved, and likelihood for success. This will be important information for your management and for the customer in the next steps.
Take it to management. Next, meet with your senior management or PMO director to discuss the problem and the potential courses of action that you and your team have identified. It’s important to get their signoff – especially if this is a highly visible project or the action plan is a costly one to the engagement. They may even want to be part of that customer discussion, which brings us to the next step.
Go to the customer. Next, as the PM leading the project, you’re in charge of all communication so it should be you who initially reaches out and informs the customer of the issue, if they don’t already know about it. Avoid letting your supervisor take on this task as it can seriously damage the customer’s confidence in you as the project manager and leader in charge. Here’s an interesting fact - when I led the Las Vegas PMO for a now defunct organization headquartered in another state, and the company was shutting down due to some issues with our CEO, it was me and not my VP that went to my clients to inform them of the situation. It was not a fun position to be in, but it had to be done and it ultimately led to the largest affected client offering me a lead position with their organization.
Following that initial contact, hold a more formal call with the customer to discuss the problem in detail and present the potential courses of action that you and your team have come up with. Try never to just bring problems to the table – always bring potential solutions as well. Brainstorm with the customer on the top corrective action choice from the list you and your team put together and make sure everyone is in agreement on next steps.
Implement. Finally, move forward with the corrective action and keep this as a key status item on the status reports and as part of the weekly status meeting going forward until you and your team have satisfactorily resolved the issue.
Bad news is a given in the project management world. However, we can make that bad news easier to accept if we follow the proper steps in getting from realization to resolution. It requires a process of swift action and wise decision making…and teamwork. Remember, it’s the customer’s project and money, but they want you to succeed. Take the issues to them and make them part of the solution.