What Do Best Practices Really Mean? Part 1

In the project management world, we talk a lot about best practices. Best practices for running projects, best practices for leading teams, best practices for organizing and running a project management office. Yes, we all want to practice best practices…but what are they? What does best practices really mean? And more importantly, since it seems to be an interpretive thing, what does best practices mean to you?

I’ve given this a decent amount of thought myself, and I’ve examined 20 years of leading my own projects and interacting with PM colleagues who have been leading projects. I’ve experienced many successes, some definite outright failures, and learned a few lessons along the way that I think have helped shape the way I manage projects for my project clients and for the organizations I’ve worked for along the way. What it all boils down to are a few actions or concepts that I would categorize as good ideas to include in every project that I manage – basically my own list of project management best practices. In Part 1 of this two part series we’ll examine three of my best practices concepts…allowing for enough project planning time in the schedule, practicing excellent communication with your team and customer, and proper proactive management of project issues and risks.

Put the right amount of time into planning

Sometimes it’s easy to resist sufficient planning on the engagement – especially when you know the budget is going to be tight or if there is any pushback from the customer or executive management. However, up front planning is the key to documenting proper requirements for every engagement and extremely important when you’re trying to get the project off on the right foot. The urge may be there to skip key planning steps to meet management’s wishes by compressing the project schedule to meet a shorter project timeframe and lower budget. However, it will not satisfy anyone in the long run. A project without enough up front planning is nearly always doomed to failure in at least one of the major success factor areas: time, budget, or customer satisfaction.

Practice thorough and efficient communication

Communication is key on any engagement and in my opinion it is the #1 responsibility of the project manager. Communication – when practiced effectively and efficiently on a project – ensures that all team members and the customer are apprised of project status at all times, are aware of what is expected of them, and know the requirements, issues and risks involved on the engagement. Set expectations at the beginning of the project – during a formal kickoff session – of how communication on the project will run. Let everyone know that key project communication needs to go through a central point – the project manager – and layout how that is going to happen. If the flow of information is not handled well, issues get missed, assignments are missed, tasks take longer to complete, and customers end up dissatisfied with project delivery team performance.

Stay on top of project issues and risks

A good project manager organizes his team and customer early in the project to focus on the identification of potential risks and then continues throughout the engagement to lead the team in practicing risk avoidance and risk mitigation activities.

Along with that, it is also critical to manage all issues on an ongoing basis – assigning them to team members (both on the delivery team side and the customer side) just as you would all tasks on the project and then continually review and revisit them on an ongoing basis. Ideally, these ongoing issue and risk review activities become part of the weekly status meetings on the project so that they stay in front of everyone and are monitored closely and routinely.

In Part 2 of this series on best practices, we’ll look at budget management and project scope oversight.