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PSI CORPORATE - An Exercise in Project Forensics Print
Pan the cubicles, cue up the mystery theme music, close in on the arrival of the Project Scene Investigators, the PSI.   Let the assignment post-mortem begin before the witnesses are gone and no one remembers the significance of the evidence.

No matter how well a project has gone, it could have been done better.  No matter how poorly it turned out, it has something positive to teach.  Which is why the final chapter of any major effort should be an exercise in project forensics, a mining of what might be the most valuable element for the company's long term success:  the project team's collective memory of the experience.

The post-project debriefing is a search, rescue and recover mission, a sifting of clues to success and a culling of useful evidence from failure.   And until the various elements of the project are put under the light of examination, looked at through a microscope, and tested for process DNA, the best practices of the project will not be captured and the ineffective ones will not be eliminated.

"What is past is prologue" is how Antonio put it in Shakespeare's The Tempest.  Yesterday's project is a guide for tomorrow's.   And not identifying successful techniques is as inexcusable as repeating mistakes.
The PSI team should be made up of the leaders of the cross-functional groups who worked on the project.  Guiding them is the lead PSI, a facilitator who is familiar with the project, a dispassionate leader and a debate monitor and the one who keeps the post mortem book.
The cardinal law of the PSI meeting should be emblazoned on a banner in bold red letters:

No Fingerpointing.  Blame Throwers Should Be Checked At The Door

The goal of PSI forensics is to find out what worked and what didn't -- of separating the wheat from the chaff -- and to figure out why.

The process requires four steps.

Determine What Worked.  Investigators identify, tag and list what was done right during the project.  Each PSI is responsible for presenting one piece of evidence in a round-robin format until the group believes it has listed all of the best practices. 
While the natural inclination is to zero in on what went wrong, beginning with what went right creates a bond of accomplishment that makes it easier to dissect mistakes in the next step.

Identify Miscues.  This step is rife with potential for inter-departmental and inter-personal attacks, intended or not.  The lead PSI needs to emphasize that their purpose is to gather and analyze evidence so that ineffective practices can be modified in the future or eliminated.
 Again, the facilitator employs the one-person-, one-example- round-robin format while being on the alert for speakers who prefer the blame game to the identification process.  When that happens, the facilitator needs to rein in the speaker.  Sometimes, prefacing the statement with "I wish" can help disarm the potentially stinging shots.

Present Solutions. This is where future leaders step up to the plate.  The lead PSI opens the floor to suggestions for solving each of the problem areas listed in the previous step.
In the best of these sessions, the PSI team members will engage one another with "what-if-" ideas and "maybe-we-could-" proposals.  Keep an eye on this group.  They are talented and committed to helping the group succeed.
If that doesn't happen, the facilitator takes the discussion lead asking questions to draw out solution suggestions.

Follow Up.  The lead PSI issues a report of the team's findings, detailing the best practices for going forward, problems that future projects might encounter as well as solutions for overcoming them.   The report is copied to the PSIs and their teams, plus other key management members for whom the insights should prove valuable.

The value of the exercise is evident when participants bring insights learned to their next assignments. 
Routine project post-mortem debriefings capture best practices for the business and further develop the problem-solving skills of its staff.  Project teams become more successful and more productive.

The bottom line:  The project is history.  Learn from it or repeat it.

2006 (c) Mary Tomlinson & John Dreyer

About the Authors:

project management, psi forensicsMary Tomlinson is president of On-Purpose Partners in Orlando, Fla., a strategic business consulting and communications firm.  She spent 18 years as an executive with The Walt Disney Company before joining On-Purpose Partners.  She specializes in business and business and marketing consulting; meeting, workshop and retreat facilitation; and speaking engagements.  She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

project management, psi forensicsJohn Dreyer is the former head of corporate communications for The Walt Disney Company and is now a communications consultant and writer.  He spent 26 years as a senior marketing and communications executive in the entertainment and travel industries.  He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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