Learning from a Project “Post Mortem”


It is important to be able to stop and reflect on what went well, and what did not, in a project, in order to determine what will work best, and what will not, in project management, and in sound instructional design. In completing a post-mortem analysis of a project I planned and implemented in 2013 with my first year Spanish students, I can certainly say that I have learned quite a bit. In short, I was unprepared for the support, and interest I found in this particular project. I was also unprepared for the nervousness, and lack of confidence of my students who participated in this project.

Let me provide the background, and a brief description. First year Spanish students in our district must complete a unit on food in Spanish. Students are expected to be able to communicate in the target language about food, numbers up to 100, and basic useful phrases in Spanish. Since authentic assessment is crucial, and I could not, for time and financial constraints, take students to a Spanish-speaking country, I decided to create my own authentic assessment in the form of a market day. Students were consulted to gauge interest, administration approved, supported, and promised to attend; however, other teachers of the same content chose not to engage due to the work load. In the future, the support of those teachers would be a key to success. Gaining the buy in of those key stakeholders (Greer, 2010) was a critical, and overlooked step, in successfully managing this project. Teachers of other content areas; however, expressed a strong desire to be included in the event.

I laughingly, but seriously, recall the day of implementation as the quietest day of the year, in my class. Students had formed groups, prepared stores with posters advertising wares in a Spanish-speaking country’s currency. Exchange rates were provided, delicious treats were displayed for purchase, dictionaries had been created by each student to aid in bartering, and communicating on market day. But students still failed to communicate in the target language as intended. I should have recognized the early warning signs of nervousness from the students (Greer, 2010).

Students were issued paper currency, and police officers, upper level students, were on site to ensure the use of the target language. (Bad call). These same officers should have been awarding the use of the target language, instead of penalizing the use of English. If I had involved “all key project stakeholders” (Portny, Mantel, Meredith, Shafer & Sutton, p. 106), I would have experienced greater success with the use of the language. If I had leveraged the support of the native speakers to model appropriate interactions, guide, and help in the target language, I would have met greater success. This is another key stakeholder group that I neglected to identify, and gain the support of (Greer, 2010).

In conclusion, do not underestimate the importance of correctly identifying key stakeholders, as I did, and gain the support of each stakeholder. This support is crucial to successful project management. Keep in mind that key stakeholders can appear in unexpected forms!


Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom Ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc.

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 thoughts on “Learning from a Project “Post Mortem”

  1. Hi Deb, great story. I can understand your level of frustration on the start of your project. Its hard to predict what all the problems areas are going to be. Its hard to get a buy in when the idea is new. Just like you posted in our discussion this week about those who say they support you but don’t when it come down to the wire and actually doing it. Like you said you should not assume silence as being in agreement. As you already know adult TESL is my area of experience. Language have intrigued me since my youth. As far as your “police officers” I agree that making it a positive feedback instead of negative you will get better results. Overall I think you did a fine job with your idea and after refining it I am sure you should get the expected results and with many people wanting to help and get part of the “glory’ Ja Ja

  2. Deb,
    I love how you connect teaching with Instructional Design; it helps me see my own teaching in this way as well! I am impressed by your project and market day. I wish my own Spanish teacher would have done this and even the Foreign Language teachers at the school where I currently teach could do something similar.

    Buy-in is crucial in any project. However, I do agree that having other teachers that could speak the foreign language may have helped the students speak in the target language. I did a Study Abroad program in college that took me to Spain. It was a definite shock in language. I also noticed that whenever I was with English speakers, we would resort to using our native language instead of Spanish. We used what was comfortable in unfamiliar situations and that is what I am assuming your students did (especially if they were nervous and being “watched” by upper level students).

    Positive reinforcement would be crucial as well. Maybe instead of having upper level students do this, have the other foreign language teachers do it (it may take some stress off of kids and pressure from trying to not fail in front of a peer). Then, you could have your upper level students do the “shopping” and it can be a grade for them as well. I know from teaching high school as well that students seem to be more self-conscious when other students are judging their work rather than a teacher.

    I hope you try this project again because it sounds very enlightening for your students. Good Luck!

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