A tool for accountability and learning, or a pain in the ….? Many managers I talk with admit they struggle to get good project completion/close reports from their teams. By Stephen Mockett, general manager, Plan A.
Given the multitude of tasks project managers are faced with, surely just letting them close the project, comply with their contractual contract close requirements; and skip off to their next project is fair enough?
As with most business decisions, the answer lies in whether there is value in it, and if there is value, ensuring you extract it.
The problem is that many project managers skim over project completion reporting because they see successful project delivery as being completion of the contract’s deliverables. They see such reporting as ‘extra work’ required purely to meet compliance requirements, and of little practical use.
And why wouldn’t they think that? In the absence of seeing and experiencing a return on the time they must expend to carry out that work? Well, there is value, and like so many things in business today, the answer lies in leadership – communicating purpose and, in this case, managing what I call ‘technical compliance’.
In this context, Technical Compliance is a made-up term to describe the behaviour of people when you make them do something they don’t want to do, and they then do it in a way that technically complies with what you required, but in such a way you wish they hadn’t (or you wish you’d done it yourself). It was originally invented (by the author actually) to describe one of the joys of bringing up kids; but it can as easily be applied to the work environment.
Avoiding Technical Compliance type behaviour is one of the most important roles managers have, most obviously showing up in areas like health and safety, but in fact as the underpinning of all aspects of workforce engagement as it is about evolving a shared sense of vision and purpose in what we do.
For project completion reporting it is important to be able to demonstrate the benefit in doing it properly, which of course requires a management system which demonstrably utilises the data to inform learning, performance, and process improvement. It is like the challenges around getting close-call reporting in H&S; if the workforce doesn’t see the ‘other side’ of their close-call reports, they are likely to become cynical about both the process and how seriously management take H&S – and rightly so.
So, where is the value?
Of course, closing a project properly can be critical in ensuring you are not liable to external parties for incomplete payments on contracts, liable to customers for incomplete scope, or liable to regulators for issues such as non-compliance.
Beyond that however, if knowledge the project team holds is not recorded it is often lost. Recording lessons learned – a key component of project completion reporting – allows you to record, maintain, and reuse lessons learned for future projects.
Restating the steps of project completion reporting isn’t the intention of this article – they are usually well enough understood, if not always carried out – rather it is to focus on the importance of recording lessons learned and building those into your continuous improvement systems. Do that, and project managers will start to see the value and benefit from the work they do in properly completing these reports.
Capturing lessons learned is a simple enough exercise. It is helpful everyone involved is clear that the overall objectives are to: Avoid repetition of mistakes; reduce learning curves on future and/or new work or projects; and develop material for development of best practices that can save time, cost, and effort on future projects.
Then, developing useful answers for these two questions becomes easier: What was done well, and should be documented so it can be repeated in the future? When you overcome challenges, you learn things, so document them for future projects. What could have been done better? And how could it have been done better? Set out the challenges and highlight how they affected other aspects of your project such as budget and schedule.
When team members see these ‘lessons learned’ captured in management systems, the value becomes apparent, especially as they start to benefit from that addition to institutional memory.
The focus of this article has been the ‘value capture’ part of project completion reporting.
The value is in lessons learned, which should themselves lead to recommendations which inform the continuous improvement elements of a business’s management systems, from which project managers benefit in the future.
The impact of this discipline on institutional memory shouldn’t be underestimated. Who hasn’t found themselves working with a client who expects you to know things that only ‘Fred’ knew? Unfortunately, ‘Fred’ recently left after 40 years of service, taking all his learnings with him.
Most importantly however, complete this discipline properly and your tender writers will have great source material to help you stand out from the competition as they draw on those detailed reports to demonstrate the relevance of your project experience, the relevance and skills of your people, and your track record!