Project Management – Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

Posted: May 14, 2015 in Instructional Design

Currently, I work in a department for a company that provides support for an automated survey tool that enables our customers to provide timely and specific feedback on their customer experience.  Customers who recently had contact with us will receive an automated call, email, or SMS and be asked a few simple questions about how well the interaction went on a daily basis.  Coaches and supervisors receive survey results and customer comments on a daily basis and this information is used to assist them in coaching and recognition.  These results help supervisors and their employees clearly understand their areas of weakness and strength.

Our group develops new and modifies existing surveys for clients in various business units throughout the company.  While working in this department, I previously worked on project to modify an existing survey for a client that did not result in desired outcomes.  The original PM working on the project left the company and the project was reassigned to me.  Initially, the project appeared to be routine with just a few changes to the questions and a change from a ten (10) point response scale to a five (5) point scale. A statement of work, business requirements, and project plan was already developed and the project appeared to be on track for a successful implementation.  The client’s desire was to increase customer take rates by offering customers shorter surveys to complete.

However, after subsequent meetings with the client, it was discovered that a major requirement had been missed and the entire project was in jeopardy of failing.  I learned that this was one of our only clients that conducted the survey in various languages.  This requirement was not in the original business requirements and not factored into the project plan.  Although less than five (5) percent of the total surveys were conducted in another language, it was vital to have all the languages implemented in production due to labor contracts.  The client admitted to missing this requirement in the initial project scope, however, our team should have anticipated this need.  There were new people on both the client’s side and our side and this requirement was missed.  According to Portney et. al (2008), “the more thoroughly a project manager plans and manages a project, the more likely the project will be deemed a success”.

The scope of the entire project changed with this new requirement.  Language translations were necessary and the entire survey had to be re-recorded in various languages.  Talent had to be hired to record the surveys and this impacted the budget and timeline of the project.  Testing was also more complicated because only testers who can understand the language perform the test.  Coordination with testers throughout the country in different time zones had to be worked into the schedule as well.  A change in scope document was necessary and new signoffs were required.   The project had to be delivered in multiple versions.  The first version, surveys were offered in English and Spanish only, which was the standard.  In the second version, all other languages were offered.  This problem could have been avoided if more experienced and senior staff on both our side and the client’s side participated during the initial stages of the project.  Also, in order to avoid this problem from occurring again in the future, even if an employee leaves the company, a detailed template was developed outlining all the requirements and considerations needed for new or modified surveys.  In addition, all documentation is stored in a location that can be retrievable by all employees in our group.


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, Inc.

  1. Farida,

    I enjoyed reading this post and picking up on some of behind the scene’s efforts in developing, administering, and perhaps validating surveys.

    The move to a five point response scale is a good one I think.

    I am curious whether anyone raised the point about the prevalence of responses at the extremes especially the notion that those most likely to respond will submit unfavorable ratings.

    Just curious,


    • Hi Steve,
      Thanks for your comments. You raise a good point. We often get questions from our clients regarding their concerns about receiving mostly negative responses. However, statistics show that this is not true. More positive survey results are received than negative results. Results and scores are displayed on a dashboard for management to review. They use this information to make improvements in their processes and providing better customer support.

  2. jennbID says:

    What caught my attention in your description of the background information on the project was your comment that project appeared to be routine. Do you think that since your company is so used to projects involving surveys that the previous project manager may have used a cookie-cutter approach to the project plan? This may have contributed to missing a key deliverable. According to our course text, a common mistake is to got right into the project because it “has been done many times before” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, p. 105). The caution is “that even though projects are often similar to ones in the past, some things are always different..project managers need to take the time at the star of the project to be sure the established plan suits the current situation” (Portny, et al., p. 105).



    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, Inc.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Yes, this is exactly what happened. This type of project has been done successfully many times before, however, the PM has to always keep in mind that there are aspect to the project that are unique to the project. This is a lesson learned that I will always keep fresh in my mind.

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