Learning from a Project “Post-mortem”

Posted: 03/14/2015 in Assignments

This week, we are to reflect on a project in either our personal or professional life. I am choosing a personal project, because the largest part of the project resulted in an epic failure, and I only have myself to blame. I did not realize that I was playing the part of the project manager (PM), but after starting this course, I see PM was truly my role, and I failed.

A large oak tree fell in my backyard. The base of the tree is approximately 5 ft. in diameter and the height of the tree is approx. 50-60 ft. In addition, three smaller trees (15 ft.) needed to be cut down. Also, some basic trimming and cleanup was in order (I have an acre).

My project was to invite friends to assist in helping with cutting up the tree and removing it from the backyard. Cutting down the smaller trees, and doing basic trimming around the edges of the property, and cleanup of weeds and leaves. I have two gas-powered chainsaws, one brand new, and one older. In addition, I have a gas- powered tree trimmer, which could be used for smaller limbs. One of my friends also stated they could bring their chainsaw for some of the lighter work, as it is smaller than both of mine. I planned to have a BBQ after we were done with the tree as payment for everyone’s hard work.

In preparation for the project:

  • Invitations were sent via Facebook and text messages, with RSVP received from approximately 10 people.
    • Tasked everyone with bringing their own lawn chairs
  • Purchased a second chainsaw, bigger than the one I already owned
    • Gas/oil mix necessary to power the saws
    • Chain lube needed to keep the chainsaws in working order
  • Cleaned BBQ Grill
    • Filled Propane Tank
  • Purchased needed items for BBQ
    • Drinks
    • Meats
    • Buns
    • Condiments
    • Ice
    • Plates
    • Cups
    • Utensils
  • Mowed yard
  • Set up lights
  • Set up Lawn Chairs and Table for food items
  • Set out chainsaws, gas/oil mix, chain lube, trimmer, clippers, rakes, and shovels.

Project results: The main trunk of the tree and the larger branches are still there. The three smaller trees were successfully removed, and one of the stumps. The other cleanup and trimming was successful. Why the epic fail on the large tree removal?

Kickoff of the project went smoothly. As friends arrived tasks were divided, and equipment provided, and work began.

My original chainsaw would not start, the primer bubble was broken, and one could not be found at any of the local hardware stores. The friend’s chainsaw was electric and only able to take care of smaller limbs, same with the gas-tree trimmer. The new chainsaw was first operated by someone who said they had ‘experience’ using a chainsaw. Unfortunately this ‘experience’ was under the supervision of their grandfather, who would stop them periodically and add chain lube as needed. The chain was therefore not properly lubricated and within a short period of time, the chain would no longer cut efficiently and was ‘burnt up’. The hardware stores did not have the proper replacement chain in stock, so this would have to be ordered.

The three trees were removed and it was decided that the stumps would also need to be removed. However, this required the PM (me) to purchase a pick-ax, and only two individuals were able to use effectively. They were exhausted after removing the first stump.

The general trimming and cleanup was then concentrated on and was successfully completed, and the evening was capped off with an excellent BBQ and bonfire, effectively removing all of the trimmings.

Ultimately, I can place the failure of the main piece of the project at my feet, as the PM of the project, I did not make sure I had all of the correct resources in working order (chainsaw). I also did not assign the task of the use of the new chainsaw to an experienced user. I also did not have a contingency plan (back up parts for chainsaws and the correct equipment to remove the stumps (pick-ax). Though this was not part of the original plan, it should have been. So I overlooked an important task and equipment need (Portny, Mantel, Merideth, Shafer, Sutton, & Kramer, 2008) . The project would have been more successful if:

  • Had both gas-powered chainsaws in proper working order prior to the date of the project start.
  • Assigned an experienced user to the one working gas-powered chainsaw.
    • Or communicated to the assigned user the need to properly check the level of chain lube ever 15-20 minutes of use, and refill as needed.
      • Oversaw the use
  • Realized the need to remove not just the three trees but the stumps, and purchased the correct equipment prior to the project start.
  • Delegated going to the hardware store (multiple times) to someone else, because every time I came back, another issue had arisen.
    • Staying on site overseeing the progress, may have prevented the ‘burn out’ of the chain on the one chainsaw that was capable of completing the project.

I still have the majority of the large tree in my backyard. I have had an estimate on what it would cost to have it removed professionally. I know with a bit more planning and preparation, I can get my group of friends together to accomplish this task for significantly less money and be successful. I have learned much from the mistakes I made in my planning, preparation and communication on the first project. I will be able to apply this knowledge to the follow-up project to secure a successful outcome.


Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  1. Dear Jordyn,
    Your story made me smile more often than sigh – you are such a good story-teller.
    I think, the little Big-Tree adventure that you planned turned into a Big-Tree quest largely because, as you say, you could not anticipate (and, therefore, did not plan for) the problems that could arise during the project’s active phase (Portny et al, 2008). The trouble is that you acted as both the PM and the whole project team during the Conceive and Define Phases (Portny et al, 2008) – you planned and defined the project single-handedly while you were not very familiar with the procedure to be implemented and failed to see the real scope of the project, did not have full information concerning the expertise of the actual workers (and, thus, misassigned the role of the Top Chainsaw Operator), did not monitor or control the active phase and allowed ‘scope creep’ to happen.
    But, perhaps, it was meant to be and the Big Tree just belong to your backyard 

    Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  2. jordynheche says:


    Thank you for your comments, I am glad that I made you smile. I do have quite a bit of knowledge and experience prior to taking on this project. With the property my home sits on, I have over 20 large trees, and I have had to dispose of many large and small limbs damaged by storms. Including another entire tree a few years ago that crushed one of our vehicles.

    Using a chainsaw throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall is something I am very familiar with. I did take the word of the “top chainsaw operator” regarding their level of experience, and here was my biggest oversight. Probably if this had not been a friend, I would have been more cautious in my assignment. I wanted to trust that the word of my friend when they said they had experience. I also agree by not delegating the purchases of various items needed at the hardware store myself, I was not available to oversee the project, resulting in ‘scope creep’.

    As to the tree in my yard, well it will be going….trees that are vertical are awesome, but when they become horizontal not so attractive.

    So even though that aspect of the project failed, I did get the rest of the yard in great shape and had a great BBQ and bonfire with my friends.

  3. Karen Bellitto says:

    Hi Jordyn, First, I have to tell you that this sounds like a great time, and almost as though the big tree is destined to stay part of your landscape. (Sometimes things just happen for a reason!)

    Also, it does not sound like team members were frustrated either, and you were a strong PM and you didn’t let the one aspect waylay the best part of the project – the BBQ and bonfire. So, a lesson learned for me, from your lesson learned, is that even the best laid plans can have an “unknown, unknown: information that you don’t have because it doesn’t yet exist.” (Portney et al 2008) so assumptions were made based on the level of chain saw experience that was communicated to you, when in fact that misinformation could be considered an unknown.

    • jordynheche says:


      Thank you for your response. We did have a good time. However, the tree is NOT staying as part of the landscape! LOL, it really does have to go. I will start to work on it when I have a spare hour, now that daylight savings time has kicked in, hopefully I can sneak out there after work and before dark and start working on it a little at a time. I have considered planning another event with friends to take care of it. I think if I do, I will have a smaller group (easier to manage) and not try to tackle so many different elements of the yard at one time.

      And yes, it is always enjoyable to have a fun part to the plan, and my friends know they will be rewarded with a great bonfire and grill spectacular anytime they attend an event I host.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s