I have a friend who is a forensic pathologist. He claims he can tell almost everything about a deceased person from his analysis; their dietary behavior, lifestyle habits, degree of alcohol and tobacco consumption, drug use, and other details about how the person lived and how they died. This kind of investigation is called a “post mortem” (after death) analysis.
The practice of conducting a post mortem has its parallel in the construction industry. When you finish a project you have the opportunity to do the same thing. The advantage you have is that you can take what you learn form a post mortem analysis of your efforts and apply it to your ongoing and future work, without anyone having to die!
This sounds like a “no brainer” right? Think of the benefits this could provide your company! So, why don’t you do it more often?
If you’re like most contractors, you spend a great deal of time and effort working on the bid, analyzing the plans and specs, reviewing estimates for materials and labor costs, looking for ways to reduce the cost of doing the work so that you can be the successful (low) bidder.
If you’re one of the smart contractors, once you get the contract, you tear the bid apart and look at everything again, devoting more resources to see whether by other means and methods you can reduce the estimated cost even more to maximize your anticipated profit on the job.
Finally, if you’re part of the “cream of the crop” you will continue to do this exercise periodically during construction, with your field supervisors and project managers, as they tackle each new phase of work, analyzing the information and conditions as the project evolves.
It only stands to reason then, that once the project is over, you would want to learn from the errors and failures that took place which cost you money on the job.
Even if your project was a success, and you met your profit target, it still makes sense to look at it critically to gain the wisdom that comes from the vantage point of 20-20 hindsight. After all, if you’re honest with yourself, you know that there is always room for improvement.
In order for you to gain the benefits from the post mortem analysis it is essential that you do the following:
- Involve all key project participants.
- Encourage everyone to be objective.
- Ask everyone to be critical, even of their own performance.
- For all major issues and problems that were encountered, ask what alternatives could have been taken and what other options were available that could have produced a better result.
- Take what is learned from the post mortem to implement in your company by adjusting procedures and practices to take advantage of what is learned for current and future projects.
Whenever you finish a project that went bad for you, it’s natural that you would want to put it behind you quickly and move on. I urge you to take a different approach. Considering the fact that you’ve already paid for the experience, why not learn to profit from it?
Make it a practice to learn from your mistakes, do a post mortem analysis of all your projects.
“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey
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