“The methodology has no use for my project so I’ve made a few changes”
“I don’t have time for paperwork, I have a project to manage!”
If this sounds familiar to your PMO, this article is for you.
If you have a large family, you wouldn’t buy a Smart ForTwo, right?
Likewise, you probably wouldn’t drive a limo on the beach unless you wanted to get stuck in the sand, and you wouldn’t drive a camper van if you were invited to a wedding (unless, of course, you want to get attention or it’s a hippie wedding!).
So why do we still believe that a single project management approach can fit all and any project?
Although this scenario may seem ridiculous to some, the fact is that some organisations are still managing a million pound projects in the same way they would manage a ten-thousand pound project.
Using the same project templates, demanding the same frequency of status reports, going through the same stage gates, and applying exactly the same project controls.
A project management approach that is highly standardised and brings a certain level of predictability to the PMO but which, on the other hand, is putting down everyone else as it simply doesn’t fit their projects scale or complexity.
Believe me: best practices are good to start with, but after a while you will realise that best-fit practices are even better.
The spectrum of adoption for a project management approach is a wide one, but is worth noting the following extremes:
It’s easy to fall into the trap of the “a project is a project is a project” syndrome and become robotic. Particularly if your organisation is new to project management.
As with most things in life, virtue is in the middle.
The ability to adapt or tailor the project management processes to the characteristics of the project and its context, ensuring that projects are managed with the proper amount of documentation and control, relating to the project environment and product design is commonly known as tailoring.
It’s an essential step to ensure that what your PMO is proposing actually fits the need.
The paradigm that ruled project management was, for a long time, derived from a Taylorism standpoint. Well represented by Ford, who famously said, referring to his vehicles, that a customer could have any color as long as it was black.
The world has changed a lot since then and we are now faced with a myriad of colors to choose from.
The same goes for projects: all projects are different and one size no longer fits all, therefore you need to identify which size suits you better to avoid a situation where the approach is misaligned with the project:
So, where to start?
The first thing is to understand what kind of projects compose your portfolio and what makes them different.
What dictates the extent of monitoring and control required, and the split between technical and project management effort?
Is it the level of innovation involved in the project, the size of the project, its client, or a combination of all?
Each organisation (and industry) will value different aspects, based on their risk tolerance, organisational culture or level of maturity.
But most of them start with a simple complexity assessment that will let you know what kind of beast your project is based on its size (in terms of budget, estimated duration, or resources involved).
If you are new to the topic, a good way to start is by having a look at the Diamond Approach, from Shenhar and Dvir, which categorises projects based in four dimensions:
- Novelty – how new is the project, ranging from ‘derivative’ to ‘new-to-the-world’
- Technology – the level of technology involved, ranging from ‘low-tech’ to ‘super-high-tech’
- Complexity – how interrelated are the elements of the project, ranging from ‘component level’ to ‘system of systems’
- Pace – how critical is the time-to-market of the project, ranging from ‘regular’ to ‘blitz’
The moment you understand which key characteristics define your traditional set of projects, you can start building project types.
This can be as simple as having three types, A-B-C , Small-Medium-Large, or Light-Medium-Advanced, to more sophisticated divisions.
From here, the next step would be to agree what is required for each of these types in regards to the application of the methodology, governance, applicable stage gates, recommended tools to use, and any other aspect you can think of that could make the life of your Project Managers easier.
To illustrate with an example, this would be defining that ‘Light’ projects won’t need a Benefits Map, but this is recommended for ‘Medium’ projects, and mandatory for ‘Advanced’ projects’.
Likewise, if it’s a ‘Light’ project, a status report won’t be required every week but fortnightly instead, while weekly status reports are demanded for ‘Advanced’ project types.
To achieve the right balance between standardisation and flexibility is a tricky task but is a valuable one that pays off and that your Project Managers will certainly thank you for:
Source: The Benefits of Tailoring: Making a Project Management Methodology Fit by Sean Whitaker, PMI, 2014
Want to know more about tailoring your Project Management approach? Get in touch!
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