There is an important point made on page two of the PMBOK Guide (Fifth Edition): the organization and/or project management team is responsible for determining what is appropriate for any given project.
This advice is not provided to encourage a free-for-all whereby each project team does as they please. Some practices consistency is crucial when one needs to evaluate a portfolio of projects, and it can also help to reduce ramp up time when staff are assigned to projects.
The guidance is there to remind us that we need to assess a project to determine which practices can be used as is, which need to be tailored to fit, and which are simply not applicable.
So what’s the problem with not hitting the “sweet spot”?
If insufficient practices are applied, or if the practices are diluted too much, there is an increased risk of partial or total project failure.
On the other hand, if teams are applying a “one size fits all” approach, the risk of project failure is reduced, but is replaced by increased cost of project delivery and frustration with project management in general. Over time, this frustration will translate into teams following project management practices just to pass a delivery gate instead of applying them to improve their odds of success.
For companies which have assigned an individual or a team (e.g. a PMO) to be responsible for assessing and improving project management capabilities, ongoing feedback from project teams can be a good way to progressively develop a knowledge base to help practitioners with adapting practices to the needs of specific projects.
Going a step further, in companies with strong internal policies or regulatory requirements, an independent (internal) consultant might be engaged to provide such assistance. Their responsibility could include the review and approval of the compliance of the adapted practices with the overall philosophy and intent of the organization’s project management policies.
Unfortunately, for those companies which have not centralized the responsibility for project management practices, the onus for doing this falls solely on project teams.
In such situations, project managers may need to develop a “play book”. Such play books could include the following details for each key project management practice:
- What benefit does it provide?
- Is it mandatory for all projects, and if not, which project attributes or criteria would merit its usage?
- What are the issues or risks of not performing it?
- How can it be adapted to fit a minimal, moderate or full usage model?
The benefit of such a play book is that it can facilitate a structured discussion with the team at the start of a project. It can help to educate team members as to the necessity of certain practices whose rationale might not be intuitive and it can also demonstrate that the project manager is taking a right-sized approach to the project.
A well written practices play book could be the project management equivalent of this knife which you COULD bring to a gunfight!