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Tailoring the Project Management Process
By Bruno Collet

This article proposes a simple approach to tailor the project management methodology to business projects based on their specific needs.

Although projects vary with regard to several criteria such as budget, criticality, and organizational span, many organizations still impose a one-size-fits-all process that, moreover, seems to have been designed by people who have read too many books and led to few projects. Choosing a project management process is like choosing vehicles to reach a destination. If you want to do groceries, would you rather go by plane, by car, or by bicycle?

So where do we start if we want to tailor a generic project management process to our specific needs?

First we have to speak the language that people who actually lead and work within projects understand best. There’s no room for philosophy here. Whether we’re building a bridge with PMBOK methodology or we’re developing a software product with an Agile framework, the guidance people expect comes down to what has to be done, when, and by whom.

Concretely, we document the process by defining:

  • Application criteria: under what conditions must a project enter a particular process. Typical criteria include budget, risk level (business and technology), and organizational complexity (number of stakeholders, potential conflicts of interest)
  • Workflow: how are activities arranged in time, what are their inputs and outputs

  • Deliverables: what artifacts have to be produced and in what form

  • Role and responsibilities: who produces, reviews, and validates a deliverable

Let’s put this approach in practice with a project management process divided in three flavors: full scale, light-weight, and default (all the rest). The example is limited to one deliverable (the project plan) and excludes the workflow aspect. I’m confident you’ll easily generalize the approach.

  • Full scale
    • Application criteria (project is “full scale” if it satisfies one or more criteria)
      • Budget exceeds $2M
      • Impacts customer-facing processes or applications
      • Client stakeholders or solution delivery teams span more than three departments
    • Project plan (example of deliverable)

      • Applicability: mandatory, based on full project plan template
      • Review: mandatory, by business and technical sponsors
      • Approval: mandatory, by steering committee
  • Light-weight (project is “light-weight” if it satisfies all criteria)

    • Application criteria
      • Budget doesn’t exceed $100K
      • Not critical for business: project failure does not affect mission-critical processes or services
      • Client stakeholders all in same department, and solution delivery team in one department only
    • Project plan (example of deliverable)

      • Applicability: mandatory, freefor
      • Review: optional
      • Approval: mandatory, client and technical representatives
  • Default

    • Application criteria
      • Project is neither full scale nor light-weight
    • Project plan (example of deliverable)

      • Applicability: mandatory, based on light-weight project plan template
      • Review: recommended, by sponsor
      • Approval: mandatory, client and technical representatives

Every effective project management process I’ve seen, and sometimes contributed to design, shares key characteristics. First, it’s deeply tailored to the context (read: your favorite methodology or framework is of little help; it’s a starting point at best). Second, it’s simple enough to be documented in a few pages. Third, and that’s more a consequence of the two first points, it can be put in practice immediately “by doing”, without sending people to training or forcing tons of documents on them. Fourth, it’s supported by tools (that have also been designed with the three previous points in mind) such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint templates or company-specific tools that are perfectly integrated in the process. Fifth, it provides sufficient indicators and evidence for governance needs. And finally, because no amount of process can reflect the infinite variety of real situations, it provides enough flexibility by allowing exceptions when clearly justified.

Bruno Collet combines business acumen with technology know-how. His successful track record comprises Daimler-Chrysler, Siemens, and Loto-Quebec, with roles such as management consultant, project manager, SAP consultant, and software architect. Bruno Collet’s skills are firmly grounded in academic excellence by achieving an MBA at John Molson School of Business and a Master of Computer Science. He maintains a professional website: brunocollet.com.

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