Tag Archives: project management

Lessons Learned?

Today I started to create a ‘lessons learned’ document for the major project I’ve been working on since last year. Initially I sat down and wrote out all the various headings for the project and it occured to me that the number of lessons learned was very large and they cover literally all aspects of the project. Obviously such a long an exhaustive list is going to take a long time for me and other members of the project team to assemble, and a long time in the future for anyone wishing to read the outcome. So whilst I was driving home I started to think about ways to sort through this information and produce a more lightweight, punchy and pertinent document. Here is the result:

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  1. Divide the project into 9 topics, by discipline. In the case of my project this will be something like: design conception, specification, tender process, documentation, low voltage electrical, high voltage electrical, civil engineering, mechanical engineering and safety
  2. Brainstorm the learning points for each of your selected topics with the whole team
  3. Sort the ideas in order of pertinence for each category and ignore anything that isn’t at least in the top 10.
  4. Provide a detailed description (from a page to a paragraph) for the first 3 items in each category
  5. For any items 4 and above a summary description will be sufficient.
  6. Pick out the 10 most important points across all areas (you should already have written out the detailed descriptions for these items, some abreviation might be necessary if you have 10 full pages).
  7. Create an executive summary and put the 10 points you selected in there.

I’m going to try this method over the next week or so and see how it works. All the major projects I’ve worked on previously have had a day or two of workshops at the end devoted to exactly this kind of process. The normal tangible outcomes of such a process are either a very large excel spreadsheet or a lengthy word document that isn’t finished until +1 year after the project. The documents themselves are seldom, if ever, read after the event and by those outside the team that created them. However there is still value in these kinds of process, the majority of which is captured by the participants who are able to crystalise the knowledge gained and apply it personally to their own future work. My aim is to make something that can be retained and integrated a little better within the institutional memory of the organisation, which will be more accessible to those outside the core project team.

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When to panic (Project Management)

To continue my previous post on top tips for project management, I have some more lessons learned to share about managing tasks:

  1. If you’re too busy to manage your priorities (because you have 30 things on your to-do list) then simply triage the list into a top 2-3 of ‘red flag’ items you consider need doing and do those things. You can use other people (colleagues, contractors, your boss) to flag up most things that you may have missed – if somebody needs something urgently, they will usually pester you. Obviously this isn’t great, but it is a reasonable way to manage highly scare resources – such as time when you’re extremely busy.
  2. Work in meetings – I’m a terrible one for working in meetings. You can’t do this in all types of meeting however. When I am running the meeting – either wearing project management or client hats (or both!) then obviously there isn’t any spare attention for other things. But, when you are in a multi-disciplinary project meeting and it isn’t your turn I find there is space to do work. Ideally this should be related to the project meeting you are in (such as administration, basic design calculations, emails, meeting requests and invitations).  Sometimes a meeting develops into a nebulous discussion which can be highly distracting if you’re trying to focus on a particular task and listen at the same time – when this happens I find it’s best to either jump in to the discussion or leave the room.
  3. Drafting emails as a planning and organisational tool! Yes, I often write emails (sometimes in meetings) and just save them in my draft folder. This helps to save time in the morning when they can be launched in quick succession after the benefits of a nights sleep.
  4. A 500 line Gantt chart is a poor tool for planning what needs to happen on your project next week. Obviously you need to have a huge gantt chart somewhere, but you’ll do much better with a list of 5-10 things you can give people to do.
  5. Project management 101 says that it’s a transactional (take information from A, give it to B and C) type of business, rather than a transformational exercise (take in Apples, give out Apple Pie). My experience so far is that whilst you can get great efficiencies in transformational work (such as experience that enables you to estimate the right solution rapidly, software, tools and well developed methodologies) as you go along – whilst the same is not true of transactional work. One email in the Inbox becoming three similar emails in the Outbox is almost certainly not a 3 fold multiplier on efficiency, productivity or any measure of product/project delivery.

To close, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about managerial efficiency  and metrics. The metric I like best at the moment is how many people (‘managers’) you need to spend a given some of money over a period of time on a project activity. It’s kind of like Brewsters Millions, there is a limit to the amount of money (being as good a proxy as any for project delivery) that one manager can spend reliably in an hour/day/week/month/quarter. It’s a nice thought, though I don’t yet have any data to back it up. It’s also important to factor in the effect of inflation, so that managers spending 10x what managers spent per unit time 5 years ago is also no guarantee of ‘better’, and complexity, as a manager working on a relatively intricate and complex project will find it much harder per unit of delivered work than someone working on a blank sheet of paper or a greenfield site. More on this topic later, if I manage to find some nice looking data somewhere…

P.S. Just before I take of my project management hat for the night, I think it’s a reasonable time to panic (as calmly as possible… of course) if you get to the end of the week and didn’t manage to knock down ANY of the red flag items you had on your list from Monday morning. In this case you probably need to either work harder or get more resources – or both.

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