In today’s hectic workforce, it’s almost a given: You will deal with chaotic schedules and work on projects which you really wish would end sooner than later. You can choose to run away from the project and walk away with nothing, or you can stick to it and learn many valuable things.

Peter Taylor, also known as The Lazy Project Manager, recalls of a time when he fled from a project that he could have learned a lot from if he had stayed. Below, he tells the story about what the project lessons he learned from that experience and gives some advice as to how project teams can avoid falling into the same traps as the one he was on.

When Projects Get Chaotic, Share Knowledge Bit by Bit

By Peter Taylor

There is a well-known saying ‘Insanity means doing the same thing you did in the past … but expecting different results’ and that is a great way to think about lessons learned in projects.

If you don’t try to learn from experience, and you do next time what you did last time, why would you expect it to magically be perfect this time around? Madness!

I learnt this ‘lesson’ on one particular project many years ago. The project was ‘challenging’ (and it seemed close to impossible at times). The steering committee was ‘difficult (to say the least), the project team members were ‘mixed’ in their interest and capability (to put it mildly), and I was a long way from home. The entire experience really tested me as a project manager pretty much from day one, but I felt that I had acquitted myself in a good way. In a good way until the very end of the project that is.

I had had quite a hellish experience over the months and just wanted it all to come to an end. And so, when that final steering committee meeting was done and the project closure report signed off, I have to admit that I almost ran to my car, jumped in and tore out of the car park deliriously happy. The motorway home called to me and, with some rock music blaring out of the speakers, I decided to write this one off to history and to never return again.

I was one happy project manager.

Then I was asked to go back and do a post-project review!

My heart sank and I began to make up 101 reasons why I was too busy, too sick, too mentally incompetent, too ‘about to go on a spontaneous holiday’, and too ‘I just don’t want to go back’, in order to, well, avoid going back.

I didn’t go back. Someone else did. And so that was that.

Except it wasn’t. My inquisitiveness eventually got the better of me and I sat down with the other project manager, sometime after the review, and I discovered many things that I had never known about my own project.

I discovered that the company had had a very bad experience in a similar previous project and, as a result, they were nervous about this project, very nervous indeed.

I discovered that the project had been strongly championed by one of the steering members despite a lot of resistance from others in the business and a lot, their reputation and possibly career for example, depended upon a successful outcome.

I discovered that two people on the project team had, shall we say, personal ‘issues’ during the early part of the project and this led to some residual tension between them.

I discovered that there was felt to be a ‘black hole’ in one particular business area where the purpose and benefit, the justification, of the project was never explained.

I discovered that they thought that I was a very strong and competent project manager, but one that focused perhaps not enough on the human side of the project.

And I personally discovered, and I did not have to be told this by my project management colleague, that I had missed a great deal by leaving the project before its final conclusion.
I personally discovered that I should have stayed for the full and proper closure, I would have learnt so much.

And here’s another lesson for you: When you do run a lessons learned activity, focus on learning and sharing some small key lessons rather than trying to share everything. Better to do that and actually pass small key elements of knowledge successfully around your project team members and other project managers than try to share everything and yet learn nothing.

– Peter Taylor (The Lazy Project Manager)

Peter Taylor is the author of two bestselling books on ‘Productive Laziness’ – ‘The Lazy Winner’ and ‘The Lazy Project Manager’. His mission is to teach as many people as possible that it is achievable to ‘work smarter and not harder’ and to still gain success in the battle of the work/life balance.

Twitter: @thelazypm
Be sure to check out The Lazy Project Manager’s blog!

If you have learned an important lesson in project management I would love for you to share it! Send your stories to kim[at]onedesk[dot]com.

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