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Doing It Right Doesn’t Mean Doing It All

At the conclusion of a recent project management class, a student sighed heavily and noted that, “If I did all of this stuff, my stakeholders would shoot me.”

I hear this sentiment often from students who are new to project management or working in organizations that are new to project management. 

The good news is that no one suggests that project management best practice means implementing every best practice on every project. Considering that many organizations expect project managers to manage projects and be a team member and, often, the SME, that wouldn’t be feasible.  And, frankly, it probably wouldn’t be good project practice.

The intention of learning best practices in project management is to become familiar with what they are in order to know which ones make sense and how to scale them appropriately for your project in your organization.

This may be self-evident to people who have been in the field for awhile, but it can be liberating for those trying to get the reins on unmanaged or poorly managed “projects” and who can become quickly overwhelmed with that should be done to manage projects correctly.

Which of the best practices are applied and the degree of rigor around them should start with an honest assessment of what’s not working and causing the most pain.  If, for example, an organization hasn’t acknowledged the role of sponsorship and doesn’t have people willing to take on that role, getting excited about developing a lengthy risk register may not be time well spent.

To get a sense of where to begin, listen to the frustrations of stakeholders, pay attention to problems causing the most noise, and ask key stakeholders what they wish they could change most about how projects are handled. Then work with them to prioritize those frustrations.

If the primary obstacle to project success is that key decisions don’t get made, maybe it is a sponsorship issue. A reasonable place to begin might involve a discussion around sponsorship and defining roles and responsibilities.

Maybe stakeholders complain most that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, in which case maybe communications planning is a good place to start. 

Perhaps it’s confusion about the purpose of the project which might suggest that introducing a charter and/or scope statement would be a good investment of organizational resources.

Of course, these things are interrelated. But the response to the inquiry “what are we doing wrong?” can’t be to start doing it all.  Many a project management journey begins like any other – with one step at a time.  

Work with others to figure out the one or two best practices you can start with.  Then identify your champions and advocates and work together to show small successes.  As you accumulate those successes, add to your best practices toolkit as necessary, draw others in and let the results speak for themselves. 

The journey may not take you exactly where you’re expecting, but that’s OK.  There will be stumbles and detours along the way.  Sometimes project management is messy.  The important thing is to be able to get to the end and recognize that you learned something together that you can take with you to the next project.

Best practices in any discipline are important to understand.  What’s not important is doing them all.

Good luck on your journey!

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