Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

Once again I am confronted with an entire realm of information I did not even realize existed. Sometimes, I have to wonder if I have existed in another dimension my entire life. I realize it is more likely that I have attenuated to other aspects of life that just happened to exclude concepts such as Project Management. The sad part is that Project Management ought to be taught beginning in elementary school. Seriously!

There are so many aspects of our lives that fall within the categories of projects such as planning a wedding, a funeral, a 50th birthday party, an Anniversary party, a move (local or otherwise), looking for a job, changing careers, and on and on. The list is probably never ending. Rather than focus on a typical academic or business project I thought it might be interesting to apply the post-mortem to a personal experience such as one I just mentioned. For instance, moving is a great project to dissect retrospectively. I do not know about any of you, but I have moved my household far too many times already. I am not in not in the military, but apparently the national average is moving about once every few years. I am pretty much on par with that.

In fact, my most recent moving experience occurred mid-2010 and was quite an undertaking. My husband, father, son, and I combined two entirely separate households and relocated back to our home town in Orange County, California. My father had approximately 55+ years of accumulated artifacts representing his and my mother’s lives together. My mother had passed in December 2009 and it seemed right to bring him with us. My husband, son and I had accumulated 11 years of artifacts (polite ways of saying too much stuff) representing our lives together. The project was moving from two households into one townhome without losing our minds. In retrospect, the entire project would have benefited greatly from the project management principles being learned in my current course.

I had moved often enough that I was aware of many of the important elements, at least in theory. I created a handwritten checklist of packing materials that would be needed, companies that needed to be notified regarding turning off and on utilities, as well as changes of address. I had the presence of mind to schedule a moving company after obtaining estimates. There was a rudimentary time line in mind (but not on paper). Unfortunately, that was the extent of my project plan.

As a direct result of my significantly deficient analyses and planning:

1. I did not have the correct number of boxes, nor did I have the right sizes for the various items needed. This required multiple trips to the packing store for additional materials. This also cost significantly more because I was unable to take advantage of the bulk pricing.

2. I significantly underestimated the physical effort and strength required for such a large undertaking, especially in light of our limited manpower.

3. In an attempt to keep costs down, my father and I moved the “smaller” items ourselves in our vehicles. He has a large truck and I have a small SUV. My husband also has a van. Once again, I seriously underestimated the cost of the gas for traveling back and forth 60 miles, the actual quantity that was capable of being moved per trip (much less than anticipated), and the time it would take to load the vehicles, drive in traffic, unload the vehicles, and return in traffic. This does not begin to consider the exhaustion factor. In the end, we made so many trips it was an inefficient method of moving. In addition, apparently others noticed we were moving because some of our belongings were stolen while we were between trips.

4. I significantly underestimated the cost of the movers, who took the slow boat from China to get to the new location. They also took an extraordinary amount of time loading and unloading. In addition, the charged an excessive amount for packing materials that they “deemed necessary.”

5. I did not measure the dimensions of my furniture, draw an appropriate schematic of the new house and was unhappily surprised to discover that several pieces of furniture could not be accommodated through the stairway, including my bed supports.

6. The stakeholders involved, namely my father, my husband and myself were not equally responsible for all aspects of the project. I did the packing and unpacking for my house, and helped my father with some of his. My husband helped with some of the unloaded for a few of the trips. The majority of the loading and unloading of the “smaller” items was done my father and me. I should have had a written contract with my husband regarding his responsibilities!

7. Despite the fact that I believed I had developed an effective labeling system for the boxes, it turns out I was seriously incorrect. It took us weeks and weeks to sift through the majority of the belongings. In fact, there are still some “miscellaneous boxes” in the extra bedroom and in the garage.

8. In addition, our plans for where to put what were also way off base. Several items were left on the patio and ended up getting ruined in the rain because none of the stakeholders would take the responsibility to move them to a more appropriate location.

Clearly, this entire project would have positively benefited from better analyses, an accurate budget, a meeting, and consensus amongst the family regarding responsibilities and commitments, as well as expected timelines. A formal checklist with all aspects of the move project itemized would also have done wonders for the organization. The labeling of the boxes could have been standardized, especially in light of the merging of two homes. Although we did eventually get moved, it was a nightmare experience similar to almost every other move. However, I feel much more confident that with the right preparation I will be able to plan much better for my next move, which unfortunately will be occurring within the next year. Hopefully, with these tools available to me, it will be much smoother and less frustrating.


6 thoughts on “Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

  1. Lynn,

    It seemed that you answered the “Why”: You, your husband, son, father, and a host of artifacts were moving.

    It seemed you mostly took care of “What”: You identified most of the work to be performed, but did not recognize the intangibles. Personally, I thought you did a great job the major products / deliverables, but as the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details”.

    It seemed you were lacking in the “Who”: You identified yourself, your husband, and your father, but what about your son? He was not mentioned regarding to any of the workload. Also, seems as if there was an unfair (towards you) division of labor.

    It seemed in the “When” you planned the anticipated variables well. Hind sight being 20 / 20, maybe a back-up plan in case the movers were late, you had vehicle troubles enroute, a member of your work party developed a sickness, etc.

    I love reading your posts. Not only are the entertaining, they are educational in their hidden meanings.

    Great job!


    • Rocky,

      It would have been great to include my son… lol. Unfortunately, he was only 8 years old. His main job was to go to school and be ready to go when I picked him up. I would take a bunch of boxes to the new place while he was in school and be back in time to pick him up.

      Also, it does seem the responsibilities were a little skewed. At the time my husband worked full time for FedEx by day, Dj’ed at a bar three nights a week until 1:00 am and did weddings on Saturdays. Needless to say, his plate was pretty full.

      I suppose that highlights another possible issue with projects. What if there is just not enough manpower available? Sometimes, it is not because everyone is not doing their best, sometimes the project is just too much. In those cases you have to just do your best with it.


  2. Hi Lynn!

    I moved twice this past summer and early fall, so I can totally relate to your moving project! I decided to move most of my household contents on my own to save money. In hindsight, I think I would have been better off doing as you did – move the small things myself and leave the bigger items for professional movers. I moved 200 miles away from home. Sure, it cost less, but it really took time away from school and work, as well as took a toll on my aging body. I’m not so young anymore!

    The questions were were to answer were, “What contributed to the project’s success or failure? Which parts of the PM process, if included, would have made the project more successful? Why?”

    I think you made an honest assessment of what you though worked and what didn’t work with your move. Additionally, I think you made a very detailed assessment of your moving project. Anyone planning to take on a moving project similar project could look at this analysis and come away with a new understanding of something might help their moving project go more smoothly. I think that’s the whole point of the post mortem – learning from what worked and didn’t work to make future projects become more successful.

    Great job on this, Lynn!


  3. Hi Lynn,

    I too, just moved this past summer. It was very difficult as we were moving over seas. We decided to sell everything and only take what we needed. That alone, the sifting through what I needed and what I wanted vs. what I did not was hard. I have accumulated a lot of memories over the years and to throw things out from my childhood was soul searching. Time management was crucial in my situation as we had tickets to fly at the end of the month, which is also when the return of the keys and inspection of my townhome needed to be conducted. Everything needed to fall right into place such as the new place in a foreign land, the vehicle purchase as soon as we got there, because we were selling ours, the amount of bags we could take on flight, the cleaning up of our old unit so that we could get our deposit back, remembering the legal paperwork that had to be done, getting the 5 children all on the same page with you, and of course not forgetting anything as there was no turning back. It was quite stressful, however I do believe that when you have goals and a mission you can do almost anything. When I got to Arizona I realized that a burden was lifted as now I could relax.

    I realized that this was the same for the transition at work. We were losing our contract and needed to “clean house” another term for sifting through the cases, throwing out what was not needed and transfering the ones that was to the next unit taking over our contract. It was tough with change on top of change as well as a lot of heated personalities. Again, because of the mission and goal we were able to pull it off.

    I like the different twist you took on your post for this weeks assignment. That was really thinking outside the box.


  4. Lynette –
    I thoroughly enjoyed your post. I think we can all identify with the challenges of moving. I moved just about three years ago. I have discovered that if you haven’t unloaded boxes in three years, you can just throw them away without worrying…

    I think your experience reflect the “triangle” truth of projects. I am not sure of the original source, but we used the graphic to explain the relationship of time, money, and scope to our customers. I was able to locate this triangle on the Microsoft Office Website.

    Every project has a cost, a timeline, and a scope, and these are related. If you want to increase scope, time and cost also increase. If you want to reduce cost, time and scope typically increase. Similarly, reducing time impacts cost and scope.

    So when you consider that decision to save some money, it is going to impact something else!

    Microsoft Office Support (2011). Every Project plan is a triangle. Retrieved from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/project-help/every-project-plan-is-a-triangle-HA001021180.aspx

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