Learning from a Project “Post-Mortem”

For this blog post, I need to do a post-mortem for a project that I select. I need to think about a project I’ve completed and take a critical look at what went right and what could be improved upon.


I’m selecting a project I undertook 2 years ago to update the FrameMaker templates for our training manuals. The templates have been used for many years and they are bloated with extra paragraph and character styles that writers rarely use. Also, the template varies from book to book as authors add styles that they prefer. The result is that templates have over 70 paragraph styles and over 25 character styles, only a fraction of which are used with any frequency.


I was able to create a much shorter list using roughly 25 paragraph styles and 10 character styles. I focused on the styles that were used most often in the books. This was a tedious process but it identified the styles that had to remain. For the styles that were no longer needed, I found replacements  that closely mirrored the original appearance and function.

I also worked with the translation vendor to identify the costs of changing from an obsolete paragraph style to something else. With roughly 2000 pages of training materials, translation cost is the biggest expense of the training group. I had to make sure that the cost of switching paragraph styles was low. The vendor identified a couple conversions that would be expensive so I omitted those paragraph swaps from my final proposal.


Unfortunately I was not thorough in my assessment of the translation costs. I focused on the conversion from one paragraph style to another. While most of the conversions would not affect the translation cost, the vendor insisted on a process called DTP (desktop publishing). The DTP costs were significant because every page had to be reviewed in every language to make sure that the paragraph switch did not change the spacing or cause page reflow. This project was undertaken during the economic downturn so there was no money to spend on DTP and the project had to be dropped.

Even if costs had not been a factor, there was another obstacle I did not anticipate either. Some writers were very attached to their paragraph styles. They added them for a specific purpose and weren’t interested in hearing about the replacements I was suggesting. If my suggestions changed the indent or font slightly, they would argue why theirs was better and necessary. Unfortunately, my manager who suggested the project was one of the people who couldn’t give up their paragraph styles either. Without funds and without managerial support, the project was abandoned.


3 Responses to “Learning from a Project “Post-Mortem””

  1. Bessie Says:

    Hi Joseph,

    As I was reading the obstacles you faced in trying to put together such tedious project, I know it had to be very disappointing when the project had to be cut. Nevertheless, there will come a time in our lives when we will be disappointed, but when you know you have given it your best and followed proper protocol, you can hold your head high and move on to your next project. There will be some stakeholders who will be difficult to work with and no matter what you do or say, they will not be satisfied. There is an old saying “You can’t please them all”. I do believe this is true.

    I have learned some important information through-out this program of study. However, just from the resources this week, I have become knowledgeable of the importance of keeping your stakeholders informed and being an active participant through-out the course of the project. In this way there are not hidden surprises at the end of the project.

  2. wmorrisblog Says:

    I have experience in desktop publishing and I can truly understand the some of the obstacles you had to overcome. Having a limited budget for any project to cover addtional resources will always result in cutting corners.
    All projects are carried out under conditions of uncertainty. As a result PM spend a great deal of time adapting to undpredicted change. I believe that if this project was persued with more certainty by your PM to when over the client, he could have come up with an alternative outcomes for products for the client such as a Style Guide. Having individuals that are so use to their styles could have formulated a group meetings to discuss such a alternative task. Win-win negotiating is a valuable skill for any manager, but for project manager, it is almost essential to the job (Portney, 1994).

    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

  3. R. Phillips Says:

    Hi Joe,

    I actually know where you are coming from about 6 months around I was supporting the translation of technical system guides for my training department. I was the 24/7 contact for the translator that we hired our biggest issue was that some of the technical terms didn’t directly translate word for word. Therefore when they had a question they would call me to verify the technical accuracy

    The issue I had one that my PM on this project never thought the work was done and ready for the translator. Therefore when it came done to the wire we had to pay a rush fee and like you stated were in an economic downturn. In the end we did only half of what we had plan on translating due to the cost.

    I was looking around the web at different blogs on this topic and found one that layout out the cost details really well. The last paragraph of the blog states “before you go looking for a translator, you need to understand your requirements better such as the type of content you, the kind of translator you are looking for, cheaper alternatives without compromising on the quality, etc.” (Planning Your Budget for Content Translation, 2010)

    Planning Your Budget for Content Translation. (2010, March 19). Atlantis Content Writing, Editing/Proofreading, and Translation Services. Retrieved March 13, 2011, from http://www.atlantis-group.us/blog/20-planning-your-budget-for-content-translation

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