Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

Background

Phase 1: In the summer of 2009, I was a member of the project team implementing Microsoft Exchange in our organization. My role on the team was the instructor for the face-to-face classes which were to be conducted in the month prior to going live with the project. The target audience included all current Internet email users, consisting mostly of management staff, educators, administrative and department assistants, and other key personnel; about 500 total employees. This implementation did not impact the internal communication system used for non-management/non-exempt employees as their conversion to Microsoft Exchange was supposed to occur sometime in the future, though a target date had not been established. For the training, I designed three face-to-face courses, two hours each:

  • Outlook Web Access Mail Skills
    • 16 sessions, maximum number of available seats 224
    • 161 completed, 9 no shows
  • Outlook Web Access Calendar Skills
    • 16 sessions, maximum number of available seats 224
    • 123 completed, 19 no shows
  • Outlook 2007 (Client version) Mail Skills & Calendar Sharing
    • 2 sessions for Administrative Assistants
    • 6 sessions for Department Assistants and others needing to share calendars and delegate access
    • 32 completed, 4 no shows
  • A total of 161 employees (32% of target audience) attending the first course also attended either the second or third course.
  • No further face-to-face sessions were scheduled because employee did not take full advantage of the previously scheduled classes.

Phase 2: Over the next few years, an increasing number of nurses, physicians, and other healthcare providers were given an Internet email address in addition to receiving a login for the internal communication system still in use. Face-to-face training sessions for using Internet email were not provided during this time period though all new hires received training for the other internal communication system.

Phase 3: Three years later in the spring of 2012, phase three was hastily implemented to transition the remaining 1400 employees to Internet email via Microsoft Exchange and phase out the antiquated internal communication system. The catalyst for this hasty implementation was the new human resources personnel system and its requirement that every user have an Internet email address. Due to the large target audience, limited computer classroom and instructor availability, the decision was made to design two online courses for Internet email skills and Internet calendar skills which employees were recommended to complete. In addition, a series of open computer times when employees could walk-in to receive assistance from the education staff was scheduled over a six-week period leading up to the Go Live date and afterwards. During the six-week period:

  • 380 users (27% of target audience) completed the Internet email skills online course
  • 98 users (7% of target audience) completed the Internet calendar skills online course
  • 89 employees (6.5% of target audience) attended the walk-in sessions
  • Walk-in sessions for the last available date were cancelled due to low turnout on previous dates
  • No additional walk-in sessions scheduled for current employees
  • New hires receive Internet email skills training during new employee orientation

What contributed to the project’s success or failure?

Despite only training 32% of the target audience, the Go Live date came and went in the Phase 1 implementation with essentially no major issues from an instructional point of view or related to the technology equipment and therefore was seen as a success. Project leaders from the Technology department as well as from my perspective as the face-to-face instructor, believed the implementation went smoothly primarily because the target audience was already experienced with using Internet email, with only the nuances of using the Microsoft Exchange server being new. While I was disappointed with the turnout for the face-to-face classes, I was nevertheless confident knowing I designed and delivered the instructional sessions by focusing on the “need to know versus nice to know” (Murphy, 1994, p. 10) content, enabling participants to attend shorter training sessions and avoiding “information overload” (Murphy, 1994, p. 10).

While Phase 1 was seen as being a success, Phase 3 was more of a failure from an instructional point of view. Participants attending the walk-in sessions were assisted to log on to the Network with their user name and password, register and complete the online course for Internet email skills through the LMS, and assisted to log on to their email account for the first time. Unfortunately, only 6.5% of the target audience took advantage of the walk-in sessions. It was ironic the employees with the least amount of computer skills during this phase were the ones who did not take advantage of the walk-in sessions. A year later, my department continues to receive calls from current employees having difficulty understanding basic Internet email concepts. The online courses for email skills and calendar skills remain available in the LMS but only about 50 employees have completed them after the implementation was finished.

A major reason for scheduling walk-in sessions instead of structured face-to-face sessions for Phase 3 was the same key personnel who could have taught face-to-face classes, including myself, were involved configuration and implementation of the organization’s replacement LMS. There simply was no time available to design and deliver structured face-to-face training sessions.

Which parts of the project management process would have made the project more successful?

For the design and delivery of the online courses in Phase 3, I functioned as the subject matter expert as well as project manager. Looking back on this portion of Phase 3 which I was responsible for, even though I was not aware of it then, I now recognize I loosely followed the life cycle phases for planning a project as depicted in our course text: 1) Conceive phase; 2) Define phase; 3) Start phase; and 4) Perform phase (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, p. 76).

Because Phase 3 was being hastily implemented for the same target date as the implementation of the human resources personnel system, the project leaders in the technology department did not have much lead time to clearly explain to the target audience why this implementation was necessary. They also did not plan well for announcing the implementation to the target audience. At the same time, it was not entirely the fault of the technology department for these weaknesses because they were not aware the human resources personnel system included a required field for email address until after contract signing for the other project.

All in all, I consider Phase 1 to be a success and Phase 3 to be more of a failure.

References:

Murphy, C. (1994). Utilizing project management techniques in the design of instructional materials. Performance and Instruction, 33(3), 9-11. Retrieved from  https://class.waldenu.edu/bbcswebdav/institution/USW1/201340_04/MS_INDT/EDUC_6145/Week%202/Resources/Week%202%20Resources/embedded/Murphy_W2_6145.pdf

Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., & Sutton, M. M., Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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One response to this post.

  1. Your project certainly was sizeable and gave you alot of hard feedback in the form of user completion. Were you able to gather feedback based on increased skill level and productivity. There are also other factors such as mandatory training or optional training that can influence attendance. Anyways, it looks like it was well thought out and that the content was very useful to those that chose the training and that is the main point for success.

    Take care- James Hermann

    Reply

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