Each week, project management veteran Tom Mochal provides valuable advice about how to plan and manage projects. Tom first describes a common problem scenario, based on real-life situations. He then offers a solution, using practical project management practices and techniques.

The dilemma
Lori and I had a final meeting to discuss her human resources (HR) project to allow employees to update their personal information over the Web. I could tell that Lori was a little worried.

“Your project had some rough times, but it looks to be ending on a high note,” I said. “I participated in some of the pilot testing, and the capability looks pretty good.”

“Yes, I think our HR clients will be happy with the capabilities we are delivering,” Lori agreed. “However, as you know, the project was delivered six weeks late.”

Lori was right. The project did come in behind schedule.

“I am concerned about my performance review,” she continued. “There were two or three reasons for the project delay that were outside of my control. But I’m afraid that when we have our annual performance reviews in six months, those reasons will be forgotten and my manager will only remember that the project missed its deadline.”

“You have a project conclusion meeting scheduled in two weeks. What will your agenda be for that meeting?” I asked.

“I intend to recap the project and make sure it is clear who caused the delays,” Lori said. “You remember some of the obstacles I faced: The client manager delayed approving the business requirements. Our infrastructure team screwed up the server order. I also had problems getting our team to show up for work every day.”

The solution
“Don’t get into the ‘blame game,’” I advised. “If you stick to the facts and gain agreement on the implications of the facts, I think you will have served your purpose. In addition, you should ask your manager and your sponsor for written performance feedback. I agree that some events on your project were outside of your direct control. But you also need to be open to the things you might have done to manage the project more effectively.”

Mentor advice
There are a number of events that take place when a project has been completed: recapping the work, looking for key findings, collecting the last metrics, publishing final status, etc. Performance feedback for the project manager and the project team should also be included.

Lori is concerned that when it comes time for her annual review, her manager will remember the project being late but not the reasons why. But she is attempting to solve that potential problem the wrong way: by deflecting the blame to others.

What she should do instead is to stick with the facts and the consequences of those facts. As project manager, she needs to be open to criticism of how she managed the project.

For example, it is true that the project fell one week behind schedule because of a delay in approving business requirements. But did the client understand the date when the feedback was due, and did the client understand the consequences? And did Lori escalate this as an issue soon enough?

Another obstacle—a server delay—was caused by a backlog from the manufacturer. Should Lori have identified that as a project risk? Should she have brought in the infrastructure group much earlier? This can all be discussed at a project conclusion meeting where the discussion is focused on the facts. If the discussion looks like it is turning into a blame session, however, the meeting will not be productive at all.

After the meeting, Lori should also ask for performance feedback from her manager and the sponsor. This does not have to be a full-fledged review, and there does not have to be any compensation implications. This feedback—good and bad—will then be available as input into her annual review in six months. At that point, the feedback will speak for itself, and she and her manager will not have to try to remember all the facts and circumstances from the distant past.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project-management and life-cycle skills. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project management methodology called TenStep.

How are you assessed following a project?

What kinds of feedback do you receive after a project is complete? Have you ever been the target of (or played) the “blame game” when a project didn’t come together on time? Tell us about it in an e-mail or in a discussion below.