The control element is a vital stage in project management, occupying a core position in frameworks such as APIC (analysis, planning, implementation, control). Broadly, it covers two distinct elements – monitoring and evaluation. From my perspective, the latter of these has been grossly overlooked.
To some extent, monitoring is the easiest of the two as it focuses a project manager on visible outcomes that link to key performance indicators. At the basic level, assets (principally time and money) are monitored, and performance (output, sales etc) is assessed to ensure a project is on track, and that the iron triangle is in balance.
So far, so good.
A project evaluation should cover not only this but far more. Unfortunately, it seems that they rarely go beyond the additional measure of some outcomes or intangibles (satisfaction, brand reputation etc).
A proper evaluation should not only measure the what, but strive to understand the why.
Specifically, project managers need to go beyond the self-serving bias. A project manager shouldn’t take the credit for all the success, and attribute the blame externally in the case of failure.
A full project evaluation is crucial irrespective of the outcome, whether success, failure or indeterminable (and the latter shouldn’t exist).
If a project is a success, laurels shouldn’t be rested upon. The recent HBR article on Why Leaders don’t learn from success is fascinating in this regard. All aspects of a project should be critically assessed – was success down to luck, competitor failure/inaction, or were the critical success factors actually internal? Furthermore, a project will never be without issue – these should be identified and remedies to mitigate them reoccurring installed.
Likewise, failure shouldn’t be a blame game. A project is a rarely an unmitigated failure. As Seth Godin writes in Poke The Box, failure should be celebrated at some level – it’s better to attempt a risk than to do nothing. After all, you can only win the lottery by playing it.
Obviously, celebrating success is a morale booster and this should continue. But a bit of critical thinking is vital to long-term development. By learning as much from the past as we can, we can better reshape the future.
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulk/5131407407