From my experience and perspective, despite the maturity and completeness of the PMBOK® Guide and other project management related resources, companies still struggle with effective application of the basic project management concepts, processes and tools. Consistent and effective application of these concepts, processes and tools is generally demonstrated in the form of "best practices". Establishing, implementing, and re-enforcing best practices around the "critical few" project management competency areas will often represent the difference between a successful and challenged project. The more ingrained these best practices are in the project management culture, the lower the dependency on the talents and heroic efforts of individual project managers.
To help better articulate what I mean by focusing on fundamentals, here are a few examples of best practices that you will find interwoven into the fabric of a solid project management culture and/or service offering:
The Project Management Plan – The project management plan is the key deliverable that confirms the high level scope of the project, and defines how the project will be managed in the context of the client’s organizational assets (people, methodologies, processes, and supporting tools). The project management plan appropriately "fills the gaps" in the client's process and tools, while maintaining the integrity of the established methodology. The temptation of many project managers is to create a "cookbook" type project management plan that is seldom referenced to help drive the success of the project.
A Well-Structured WBS – The WBS provides a very useful hierarchical view of the project deliverables. A well organized WBS, decomposed to the appropriate level of detail, creates a foundation for effectively estimating durations and work effort, establishing responsibilities and work assignments, and tracking progress.
A Resource Loaded and Leveled Project Schedule – Resources are loaded into the schedule activities, either based upon "top down" assignments to specific activities, or "bottom up" work effort estimates for these activities. After the resources are accurately reflected in the schedule, the schedule is not complete (and baselined) until resource leveling is performed based upon "real" availability of resources throughout the project.
Targeted Project Communications and Performance Reporting – During the planning and execution phases of the project it is important to establish verbal and written communications that validate the quality of deliverables, provide updates on the project, and facilitate escalation and resolution of project change requests and issues. Communications that are performed on a regular basis create a certain rhythm that carries on throughout the project (e.g., weekly status reports, weekly core team meetings, monthly steering committee meetings).
Project Closure – The tendency in many organizations is to rush onto the next project, as soon as the current project is released. Project closure provides the transition from project activities to operational functions, communicates fact based information about the performance metrics accumulated throughout the project life cycle, and most importantly establishes the action plans to drive improvements in future projects based upon "lessons learned".
A thoughtful implementation and diligent application of best practices will drive tangible benefits realized immediately within individual projects, but more importantly by creating a project management culture and competency that consistently meets or exceeds customer expectations:
- Provides a consistent approach for key project management functions that enhances the ability to effectively initiate and plan the project, and on-board the project team members and other stakeholders.
- Develops project managers that are significantly more productive, ramping-up quickly on the project and providing the ability to take on a greater level of responsibility.
- Establishes a common sense understanding of the appropriate application of best practices, and creates an environment that promotes continuous improvement (further enhancing project management performance and productivity).