Project Management

The Need for a (Project) History Lesson

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting S.A., a Roatan, Honduras-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at [email protected]. Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

It doesn’t matter what our current project is about, there is always something we can learn from previous initiatives. Even now, I come across situations that make me think back to projects from 20-plus years ago and relate to some of the challenges I faced then. It’s a great way for me to be guided in the right direction.

The problem for new project managers of course is that they don’t have all that experience to look back on, so have to leverage the experience of others (colleagues, team members, etc.). But there is one aspect of history that new PMs can learn for themselves—and that’s the historical context for their project.

Virtually no project exists in isolation. It is always building on something that was done before, preparing for something to be done in the future, or both. An upgraded version of an existing product is an easy example, but a brand-new product is often a replacement for something older, an extension of something else that is being targeted for a new market, etc. From a systems standpoint, projects usually focus on upgrades or replacements, and processes are either streamlining existing approaches, automation initiatives or something similar.

New and younger project managers may not know that context. Those projects may have largely happened while they were still in school, before they joined from another employer…

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