Thursday, November 01, 2007

Blind Optimism

After running a final After Action Review (AAR) for a project today the Project Manager (PM)approached me and asked me what are some of the key learnings that I see in common with other projects I have facilitated reviews for.

Over the past two years at Suncorp I have facilitated workshops (what used to be Post Implementation Review (PIR) and the smaller more frequent AARs we are now moving towards) on over 60 projects.

I told the PM of a presentation I made to a forum for our Enterprise Program Management Office (EPMO) a couple of months ago after being asked by my Manager to share our most common lessons learned to the group of PMs and other project staff.

This responses to the presentation I made were diverse. From some I got denial "You don't know what you are about." from others a "I'm not sure about that." as well as "I hadn't really thougth about that." to people congratulating me on speaking out about systemic issues in our processes, capability and culture.

There were three key trends I identified are listed below. You will notice these trends do not relate to process but instead are more cultural and behavioural traits. In this post I will look at one specifically and then discuss the others in future.

  • > Blind Optimism
  • > Not identifying 'true' learnings
  • > Focus on 'doing'

Blind Optimism

In most cases I discovered that despite the fact that the last project the PM ran went pear shaped, having various challenges that caused time, cost, resource and scope blowouts, they tended to take an optimistic approach to the new project citing that they "didn't think it would happen again" or "assumed the problems had been fixed" or took a 'she'll be right mate' attitude to the next project.

Now don't get me wrong. We are talking about medium to high complexity projects of a medium to large scale and cost, so the likelihood of coming across the exact same situation where you could apply the exact same solution and end up with the exact same outcome will not happen that often. I am not saying we needed to be pessimistic and intentionally plan for a worst case scenario. All I am asking for is a realistic outlook.

Consider there is a risk that the same troubles may occur and mitigate/treat the risk. Find out what other people had experienced and learn from that experience. Don't go in blind. Undertake some Knowledge Exploration.


Carole said...

Hi Corey, yep debriefing and lessons learnt is a hugely undervalued and often ignored part of project management and a missed opportunity for any organisation that does not include this as a standard part of the process whether or not the project goes "according to plan". It may be due to blind optimism but in my view is more often a culture issue.

Richard Hare said...

I've seen the same thing. The AAR is regarded as a stage in the PM process rather than an opportunity for learning.

Some people seem reluctant to undertake any learning upfront. It's as if undertaking the Knowledge Exploration you mention is tantamount to an admission that the PM doesn't know what to do.

Not all people seem comfortable saying that.