Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

I’m taking a Project management in Education and Training course this semester, and this week’s assignment is to do a project post-mortem on one of my past projects, personal or professional, that was not successful. Most of my projects at work have been successful, and while I have had one recently that has been a great disappointment to me professionally, I am not going to discuss that one, because I have been using it as my real-life example for the weekly discussion posts. I plan on sharing bits and pieces of the work example throughout the semester (it’s almost like a bad soap opera), but today, I am going to share a personal example. And, no, it is not a Pinterest fail because Pinterest was not around then, but one could point the finger at HGTV for this one.

Our master bathroom toilet started to “flush” on its own various times throughout the day. I knew that this was not normal, and needed to be fixed. I am pretty handy, but usually in these situations, I would just call in the expert and write the check, but for some reason, this time around I decided that between my husband and I, we could save some money and DIY it. We went on the internet and found out that it was an issue with the flapper, which could be easily replaced, thus starting our toilet flapper replacement project. We went to Home Depot, got the needed parts, followed the directions, and replaced the flapper. Success, right? Well, we thought so, until a couple of weeks later. My husband, daughter, and I were in the living room, which is directly below our master bathroom, when my daughter asks, “Why is the ceiling wet?” Long story short, our DIY flapper replacement project was not a success – we ended up having to pay a plumber anyway to come out and fix the issue.

So what went wrong? I think that the reason our DIY project was not a success was because we were unfamiliar with plumbing in general. Remember, this was the first time we ever tried a plumbing project (and since then, it has been the last). Yes, we went to Home Depot and got the right equipment, got advice from the salesperson, watched a YouTube video, and read and followed the instructions, but at the end of the day, we were not the right people on this project.

There was not written project plan, but, based on Michael Greer’s (2010) Project post-mortem review questions that I had to review as part of this blog assignment, and the life cycle phases of a project discussed in our course text, a red flag would have gone up during the first phase of the project plan. According to Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer (2008), the first phase of the project is known as the conceive phase, which starts with an idea. During this phase, two key questions need to be asked:

  1. “Can the project be done” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008, p. 77)?
  2. “Should the project be done” (Portny et al., p. 77)?

We thought the project could be done, but we did not have any prior plumbing knowledge, or quite the right tools (I forgot to mention that one – we had to improvise), nor did we fully consider or “plan for uncertainty” (Portny, et al., p. 78). Looking back, we should have realized that this project was not feasible for us, and we should have, as Portny et al suggest, canceled the project because “doing anything else guarantees wasted resources, lost opportunities and frustrated staff” (Portny et al., p. 78). We not only paid for the materials to try the fix ourselves, but ended up having to pay the plumber – plus we lost most of a Saturday afternoon.

Yes, this was a fun example of an unsuccessful project, but it still helps to illustrate the importance of applying the principles of project management to any project. If we would have really taken the time to work through the entire plumbing project by planning a project, and going through the life cycles phases, we would have saved ourselves a lot of frustration.

By the way, I am reminded of this failed project everyday – the stain on the ceiling is still there..



Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

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.


6 thoughts on “Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

  1. Jennifer
    I really enjoyed reading this blog post! I could totally relate and was laughing out loud 🙂 This sounds exactly like my husband most of the time when I am the one saying, “Let’s just call someone who knows what he/she is doing!” I am all about DIY but not when it comes to heating/plumbing/remodeling and so on. Like you, I chose to write about a personal example because I feel I am always using professional experiences for discussion posts. I like how you tied in our textbook’s advice and applied it to this not so successful “project.” I give you props for trying though because I automatically would have called someone and not touched it.

  2. Jennifer! I feel for you. Having a plumbing issue is the worst! To me it looks like you omitted the start phase. In our course book Portney et. al. (2008) refers to common mistakes and why projects fail. Jumping into the work upon joining a project at its start phase is one of those common mistakes. “Many project managers join projects during the start phase and assume the work before their arrival needs no additional review or consideration” (Portney, et. al., 2008, pg. 105). By doing this it allows the project manager to see the issues that may have been overlooked (Portney, et. al., 2008, pg. 105). For me, I tried to avoid all DIY projects. I feel like they are always so much more work than I intended. I wonder if the successful DIY projects are all done with project management in mind. It seems to me that you did do a lot of planning and research. Many times project management does involved those things. So I’m wondering you think it went wrong because you didn’t write it down or because you weren’t the right people. I think you could have still been the project manager and led the project but maybe a combination of writing it down and using the Work Breakdown Structure maybe then it would have helped determine that you needed more SME team members to make the project more successful. Well I definitely will continue to feel for you. Do you think you’ll do another DIY project? If so, what would you do differently?

    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.

    • Jennifer,

      You gave a good example of a project management project. This project at the time didn’t seem to be a very big undertaking at the time, but the negative result of the project could have lead to a much bigger issue. I have attempted many DIY projects and have both succeeded and failed, so I can relate to you wanted to complete this task yourself.
      From my own experience what I have learned from post projects is that the lack of planning was the key to the results that occurred, additional cost was incurred, but the project outcome lacked the results initially intended. I think if I followed these principles by Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer, Sutton and Kramer (2008) to increase a project’s chance for success by planning and guiding; as well as, designing the Work Breakdown Structure which helps to organize all the activities necessary to complete the project.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. It seems that you learned a lot from this project.


      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.

    • Katie,
      I think the project did not turn out as expected because we were not the right people. I’m always up to trying DIY projects, but I know my limitations when it comes to plumbing or electricity.


  3. Hi Jennifer, I agree that a project is a project, regardless and all require similar treatment; big or small. However, yours seems a rather messy situation, where you were left to clean up afterwards when you least expected. I agree that you could have decided to, not really cancel the project, but rather redirect the project to more capable people instead (to cancel means to terminate/ abandon completely). Another thing about the planning when you decided to do the project is that of ensuring the right people are selected and assigned to suitable tasks, and that all team members are suitably equipped with the right tools for the job (Greer, n. d, Portny et al, 2008). So yes, it might be amusing that you usse this scenario, but it is quite pertinent.

    Best regards

  4. Jennifer, I LOVE your project example. I think this would be something that would be beyond me as well. I would probably answer the question “Should the project be done [by me]?” by saying no way. That would have ended it right then and there. I am currently married to my own version of MacGyver (probably dating myself here), and he handles all of it. He and his brother used to flip houses.

    I think no matter what the project the two questions you pointed out are the most important to answer before doing anything else. Again, great post!

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