First steps in Instructional Design!

Project Post Mortem


Last year I worked as a graphic designer for a small healthcare company that has pain clinics and one prototype weight loss clinic that they were hoping to develop into a chain. The bulk of my responsibility was with advertising and creating/revising materials for the weight loss clinic because the pain clinics were already successfully up and running. About two weeks before Christmas, the boss’s wife, who was responsible for giving our marketing department projects, called me into the boardroom and gave the marketing team a project due before the New Year. The boardroom was full of all of the high level people associated with the weight loss clinic and she explained they wanted a new version of the weight loss manual and that I needed to get started on the revisions in the meeting while everyone watched on the computer projection screen. This was the first time I had heard of the manual, let alone that I needed to revise it, so I had no idea where the manual was located on the server and even which of the multiple versions was the correct one. I quickly saw that this project was not getting started on the right foot, but I did my best to keep up and over the next few weeks try and produce what she wanted.

In addition to not having a statement of work (SOW) or work breakdown structure (WBS), no one involved with the revision had any idea that it was going to be revised until she called us into the meeting. She changed her mind several times about the scope of the project, which led to unnecessary work and revisions on our end while working within the tight deadline. In addition, we were unable to finish the other projects we were working on and had been given little direction and an unrealistic deadline for revision and printing, especially considering the holidays were around the corner. We all felt like we were being set up for failure instead of for success.

I feel that, given the lack of direction and the deadline, that I and the other team members did the best job that we could. We created our own process for revising the manual, created a timeline for when team members would be available, and put in extra time and effort in order to get it finished as quickly as possible and off to the printer. No one asked or was told what the major rush was, but later we found out it was because there would be two new clients coming in January to the clinic and she wanted the book to be ready. I believe that if my boss had taken a step back and realistically looked at the project scope, the time of year, the small number of new anticipated customers, and had understood the print process a bit more, she would not have imposed such a quick deadline on our team. As one of the team members, I should have ascertained what exactly was important to my boss and adjusted the project according to her needs (Allen & Hardin, 2008). I would also have been able to present to her a more realistic timeline that she could have taken time to consider while being able to meet the need or needs most important to her.

I learned a lot about management from working under this particular boss. I learned the importance of good planning to set your team up for success, instead of just giving a project to someone with an arbitrary deadline with no research or thought put into the timeline or WBS, which can only lead to frustration for your team members. I learned the importance of researching the availability of people and outside vendors along with the other various project components before establishing a firm deadline. In addition, I saw the clear need for a WBS so everyone understands their particular responsibilities to avoid work overlapping. Despite the disorganization, it was actually a very fun project to work on as I enjoyed the revision process and having the chance to work with the dietitians and nurses who contributed to the content of the original weight loss manual. It was not an impossible task to accomplish, but it was lacking in many major components of a successful, smooth project. It needed proper communication, analysis, a WBS, timeline, and for the team to know what was most important to our boss about the job, so it could be adjusted accordingly. In the end, the project was completed about four weeks after the original due date, which was likely what the timeline would have been with proper planning. The weight loss clinic simply gave the new clients the old version of the book to begin with, and then later gave them the updated version when it was back from the printer’s. All in all, the project was deemed a failure from my boss’s perspective, but from the team members’ perspective, we were satisfied with the job we had done, given the task before us and the lack of direction and support from our manager.

Allen, S., & Hardin, P. C. (2008). Developing instructional technology products using effective project management practices. Journal of Computing in Higher Education 19(2), 72-97.


5 comments on “Project Post Mortem

  1. renaeklee
    September 12, 2013


    This sounds like a very stressful situation. That is frustrating that you were given a project with little to no direction before the holidays, and the project was only meant for two additional clients. My perspective is that this was a waste of time and money. It should have been more thoroughly planned out. Also, given the time constraints, the boss should not have been changing her mind about the scope, considering she provided you with little time and limited information.

    • genahloger
      September 13, 2013

      Yes. It was incredibly stressful and it was most definitely a waste of time and money. The problem with it being around the holidays was that the printer was taking time off, as were so many other people, and she still expected it to be done in her time frame. However, all that being said, I learned a lot from working there about what NOT to do to employees and how NOT to handle projects! That at least is priceless and worth the stress!

  2. matthewpittman2
    September 15, 2013

    Wow, this sounds like a tough request. Your boss should have been aware of the timing of this request and given a lot more detail about the whole situation. It certainly didn’t seem like they were trying to set your team up for success. Do you think this was due to inexperience on the part of the boss? Or did she just not care? As we have read and seen in the resources, communication is key and it sounds like this project was definitely lacking in that area.

    • genahloger
      September 15, 2013

      It was a lack of experience and a lack of caring on her part. As I said in the post, her husband owns the company and from what we could tell, he just let her work there as a hobby or sorts or for something to do. There was no accountability for her so she could do and behave how she wanted, it was by far the strangest and most difficult place I have ever worked. She didn’t know know how to communicate, she was just used to telling people what to do and having it done. Needless to say, I didn’t stay long after the project was finished and my stress levels were WAY down after that! Communication and setting your team up for success are so crucial to having a happy and fulfilled workforce. That much I learned from working there!

  3. tonishirleyidt
    September 17, 2013

    Everyone wants it yesterday is the story of my life! In this world of “perfect later”, I wonder if a formal logical project management approach will have a place or just become a myth or an urban legend.

    As I read our text, I think to myself, Yes! Yes! that is how it should be done and it seems so reasonable and easy on paper. Then, suddenly you yourself are in the throws of a project and the lines begin to blur. It takes a special person to create that perfect mix of control, flexibility and organization to make a great pm.

    It appears we have all seen what not to do. I wish us all well in our future projects!

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This entry was posted on September 12, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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