Those of you who have read my blog consistently know that I am interested in two cases in which Project Lessons Learned can be identified from projects.  I call these the Single Project Case and the Multiple Project Case. 

The Single Project Case involves a project manager and his team who wish to identify, document, and share project lessons learned at the completion of a project, usually during the project close process. 

The Multiple Project Case is the case in which several projects are subject to the same “project environment” and, therefore, may exhibit patterns of behavior that are the result of the structure of the project environment.  The “structure” of the project environment is the policies, procedures, standards, and working processes that the project organization establishes to govern the way that the project will be conducted.

As we have discussed previously, the real leverage in looking at patterns of behavior from several projects that are subject to the same project environment is that a single change to the structure could potentially improve the performance of all the projects in the environment.  This is because the structure has dictated some behavior or action on the part of project teams of others associated with the project that have contributed to suboptimized performance.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide a simple “analogy” to further explain the power and leverage associated with looking at patterns of behavior among projects, and tracing these patterns to some action or process in the project environment that contributed to those patterns. 

The simple analogy is the story of a breakfast buffet at a hotel.  From six AM to nine AM each morning, the hotel offers a breakfast buffet to its guests consisting of the usual breakfast foods:  eggs, sausage, oatmeal, coffee, orange juice, muffins, bagels, cereal, etc.  Guests usually serve themselves from a buffet and then sit in a lobby designed with tables for use by the guests during breakfasts and other meeting occasions.  Guests usually serve themselves and then clean up at the end, which assists the breakfast staff in maintaining a continuous flow of breakfast guests.

On one particular morning, as each table completed its breakfast and vacated the area, a member of the breakfast staff wiped the table clean with a damp cloth in preparation for the next guests.  Several breakfast staff noted that there was a sticky substance on each of the tables that resisted the usual wiping with a damp cloth, so that additional cleaning was required.  The incident continued throughout the morning. 

At about 8:50 AM, the manager, who had been informed by the breakfast staff of the sticky substance, observed several guests as they ate and completed their breakfasts.  He approached several tables, and asked if the breakfast staff could examine the tables while the cups, plates, and utensils were still on the table.  It was found that the sticky substance had been deposited on the table by the plastic orange juice cups. 

 A “pattern of behavior” had been identified.  A sticky substance had been identified with each table where an orange juice cup had been place by a guest.  The sticky substance appeared to be the same in each case.

The manager and several breakfast staff proceeded to the orange juice dispenser and observed the following process.  Guests would pick up a juice cup from a stack of empty juice cups and place the cup on a specific spot in the juice dispenser.  The guest would then push a button to dispense the juice into the juice cup.

The manager and the breakfast staff examined the single spot where each empty juice cup was placed by guests.  On that spot there was a sticky substance.

A process that had been put in place to facilitate ease of juice dispensing had caused a bad outcome at the customer environment location.  The process supported the overall structure of breakfast for guests during the time period six to nine AM. 

If the breakfast staff had not acted to identify the incident and its resulting pattern of behavior, the impact on customer satisfaction might have been negative.  At the very least, it might have contributed to the sticky substance being spread to other equipment and guest utensils.

Because the breakfast staff and the manager reacted quickly, however, the sticky substance was removed from the orange juice dispenser.

This analogy is far from being too simple.  It points out that “patterns of behavior” are so important in a project or customer environment that project groups should be attentive to them and act with haste to correct them.

Many such patterns of behavior occur in project environments every day.  Do you take the time to think through incidents and events in your own project environment which can be “patterns of behavior?”

The quick action of the breakfast staff and the manager in identifying the patterns of behavior were a significant step in making the improvement to the process which kept the structure working as planned.

In your own project environment, look for “patterns of behavior” and the underlying root causes for their occurrence.  The leverage you can apply in your business context is enormous.

And the next time you drink a cup of orange juice, think of this example.  You will be glad you did.

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