The Post-Mortem You Never Want


How to Determine Findings from a Troubled Project



By Bob Prieto

Jupiter, Florida, USA



Project closeout reports, reports from turn-around managers on troubled projects, audit reports and project post-mortems all seem to have recurring findings. These findings can be used to help establish strong, sound project management procedures and act as a guide for effective management of a project.

Alternatively, the lessons of the past can be ignored and these findings can serve as a checklist for the auditor or manager looking at a troubled project. Clearly an ounce of prevention is the desired course of action.

While the “findings” that follow are not all encompassing, they provide a framework for project managers, functional leads and corporate management to assess whether a project is experiencing one or more of the findings common to many troubled projects. Used preventatively, it can help catch problems as they are emerging and before the real damage has been done.

For turnaround manager’s and project auditor’s, this list will unfortunately give them a head start in structuring their report!

Findings On A Troubled Project

  1. Failing to Adequately Plan:
    • Poorly defined objectives lead to weak planning
    • Weak planning leads to inefficiency and rework
    • Plan without the end clearly understood
    • Plan not utilized or kept up to date
  1. Weak Communications:
  • Stakeholders not fully defined
  • Communication plan for individual stakeholder groups not fully in place
  • Frequency and completeness of communication does not meet stakeholder’s needs
  • Communication plan and efforts not updated or fail to evolve through project lifecycle
  • Communication approach provides insufficiently for “active listening”
  • Project status not communicated frequently and in detail
  1. Failing to Get Adequate Team Buy-in:
    • Top-down planning creates perception of “expediting”
    • Limited team buy-in delays “front line” decisions, acceptance of responsibility and constructive suggestions and feedback
    • Lack of required team skills may not be identified early on
  1. Team Skills Don’t Meet Project Needs:
    • Skill gaps not identified
    • “Hope” adapted as a strategy
    • Changed project needs not reflected in plan or team skills mix
  1. No One is Responsible:
    • Roles and responsibilities in project execution not articulated
    • Control of “white spaces” not addressed
    • Support mechanisms not identified or in place
    • Penalty for “taking personal risks” outweighs penalty for “failing to take personal risk” (retribution vs. reward culture)


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally published in PM World Today in November 2008.  It is republished here with the author’s permission.

How to cite this paper: Prieto, R. (2008). The Post-Mortem You Never Want: How to Determine Findings from a Troubled Project, Second Edition, PM World Journal, Vol. X, Issue I, January 2021.  Originally published in PM World Today, November 2008. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/pmwj101-Jan2021-Prieto-the-post-mortem-you-never-want-2nd-ed2.pdf



About the Author

Bob Prieto

Chairman & CEO
Strategic Program Management LLC
Jupiter, Florida, USA


 Bob Prieto is a senior executive effective in shaping and executing business strategy and a recognized leader within the infrastructure, engineering and construction industries. Currently Bob heads his own management consulting practice, Strategic Program Management LLC. He previously served as a senior vice president of Fluor, one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world. He focuses on the development and delivery of large, complex projects worldwide and consults with owners across all market sectors in the development of programmatic delivery strategies. He is author of nine books including “Strategic Program Management”, “The Giga Factor: Program Management in the Engineering and Construction Industry”, “Application of Life Cycle Analysis in the Capital Assets Industry”, “Capital Efficiency: Pull All the Levers” and, most recently, “Theory of Management of Large Complex Projects” published by the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) as well as over 750 other papers and presentations.

Bob is an Independent Member of the Shareholder Committee of Mott MacDonald. He is a member of the ASCE Industry Leaders Council, National Academy of Construction, a Fellow of the Construction Management Association of America, Millennium Challenge Corporation Advisory Board and member of several university departmental and campus advisory boards. Bob served until 2006 as a U.S. presidential appointee to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council (ABAC), working with U.S. and Asia-Pacific business leaders to shape the framework for trade and economic growth. He had previously served as both as Chairman of the Engineering and Construction Governors of the World Economic Forum and co-chair of the infrastructure task force formed after September 11th by the New York City Chamber of Commerce. Previously, he served as Chairman at Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) and a non-executive director of Cardno (ASX)

Bob serves as an honorary global advisor for the PM World Journal and Library and can be contacted at rpstrategic@comcast.net.

To view other works by Bob Prieto, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/bob-prieto/