Last Job Syndrome, The Risks of Project Past
Guest Post by Malcolm Peart (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
We all use our work experience to a greater or lesser extent and often the most recent project is recalled as it is at the forefront of our minds. However, is it the most relevant if we try to adapt our most recent, and hopefully successful, experience to meet the current situation?
The direct application of the last job processes, procedures, and methods to the current job, whether rightly or wrongly, is ‘Last Job Syndrome and ‘Sufferers’ of this syndrome blindly follow their last project despite the uniqueness of the new project and try to adapt the situation to meet their experience. They must go through a new learning curve which can obviate the potential Return on Experience of engaging the ‘experienced’ person.
Conversations inevitably start with “when we were on…” such and such a project and a document is produced or an anecdote is recounted which may or may not be relevant. This, in turn, opens up the door for other battle-hardened hacks who then pull up a sandbag, swing the lights and swap war stories. These are possibly even less related to the issue at hand and the actual situation/issue is evaded. However, and importantly for the application of Last Job Syndrome, the situation is redefined to suit previous project’s experience and we have prevarication as we try to fit a square peg into the round hole. The anecdotes potentially avoid the issue at hand allowing inappropriate experience to be applied.
If the application of Last Job Syndrome does not resolve the problem another solution has to be found. This will then need to be based upon real life and the situation in hand and application of ‘relevant’ experience. A relevant solution is then found but we have had procrastination.
However, if the solution does not work the Last Job Syndrome guy will provide another anecdote of “when we” did this or that and pontification becomes the order of the day. The risk of a downward spiral of delay in finally arriving at a solution manifests itself.
So how do we avoid such a downward spiral? There must be a realisation from the outset that while experience is essential it should be tailored to suit the actual situation and the requirements of the job (project) in hand. This may require an early attitude readjustment for the Last Job Syndrome sufferer or the resultant behaviour will result in delays, and possibly wrong decisions. These decisions may deal with the consequences but may not address the cause.
To prevent Last Job Syndrome the project manager must cultivate an attitude of building up the project knowledge based on the project in hand, the stage which the project is at, and the relevant team experience. This should cultivate a behaviour related to the application of relevant experience and looking at issues with a project-centric focus resulting in positive consequences for the project.
Of course, war stories and Last Jobs are useful as they often contain some pearl(s) of wisdom. But…direct application of such pearls without thought may well be wrong; even though they are applied with the best intent. Caveat Emptor.
MBA, MSc DIC, BSc; Chartered Engineer, Chartered Geologist, PMP
Over thirty years’ experience on large multidisciplinary infrastructure projects including rail, metro systems, airports, roads, marine works and reclamation, hydropower, tunnels and underground excavations.
Project management; design & construction management; and contract administrative in all project phases from feasibility, planning & design, procurement, implementation, execution and completion on Engineer’s Design and Design & Build schemes.