Why Best Practice is not enough
Best Practice models are an excellent way to deliver better results and reduce risks. Where Best Practice falls short is when organisations do not apply common business sense and fail to make a solid business case for using a particular Best Practice approach.
Contrary to popular belief, organisations do not need to apply the whole structure of a Best Practice model page by page, but instead ask themselves what problems they are trying to solve, what the organisation wants to achieve, and how a Best Practice framework would help it to achieve that.
However, if everyone in the organisation is using the same method and language, the business can be much more flexible, swapping staff in and out to different teams.
Embedding and tailoring best practice is important. Otherwise, there is a real danger that organisations will throw out the baby with the bath water when things appear to be too different or not showing immediate results.
It is not necessary to discard all the organisation’s current knowledge and experience – instead the most effective approach is to help the organisation adapt to new Best Practice by integrating current practices.
By supporting a large number of global businesses, we’ve found that it seems sensible to begin by defining the minimum standard that you expect from a project outcome. Ideally, this encourages people to build on that.
The problem with this approach can be that if you don't spell out everything that needs to be done, then some people won't do it – and they certainly won't push the boundaries and do the best job possible.
Interestingly, in an early incarnation, PRINCE2® did not build in risk assessment, assuming people would use an associated risk framework called PRAM. So many project managers took this to mean that they did not need to do a risk assessment, with predictably adverse results, that risk was built into later versions.
Organisations investing in training people in Best Practice methodologies need to make sure that they are going to recoup the value of the training. Too often organisations have many employees who are highly trained in one type of Best Practice framework or another, yet for some reason either that framework does not suit the organisation or there is a failure to apply it effectively in practice.
Here are five key tips for applying Best Practice in real life projects:
- Spend time identifying the Best Practice framework that is the best fit for your organisation. Where do you need to introduce better practice? To improve projects, programmes, portfolios or change activities? The P3M3 maturity model can help identify what your organisation is good at and where it might benefit from support.
- Consider how to get buy-in right across the organisation. You are looking for senior management buy-in – the key is to sell the project to them, not bombard them with paperwork. Project initiation documentation may run to tens or hundreds of pages. Condense that into just a couple of pages for senior management review.
- Manage introduction of Best Practice through stealth. Look for opportunities to retain the organisation's culture and language as that will help with acceptance of new processes.
- Review the Best Practice qualifications and training available. Some of the major methodologies have had updates recently that plug some of the gaps that were hindering their practical application. For example, PRINCE2 evolved a PRINCE2 Agile incarnation, and ITIL service management Best Practice has introduced a Practitioner level.
- Train senior management in project management Best Practice to reinforce their role as project sponsors.
In essence, effective Best Practice will be highly visible in the form of continuous improvement within the organisation. It will underpin a learning culture where all employees become critical elements of the organisation – and they will feel motivated and sufficiently challenged, resulting in high levels of engagement and performance.
About the author
Russell Kenrick is the Managing Director at ILX.