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Top 6 Project Management Best Practices
By Steve Hart

I write a lot about project management best practices. I firmly believe that it is the effective implementation and consistent application of PM best practices that differentiates successful projects from challenged projects. Best practices represent the practical application of the concepts, processes, and tools defined in the PMBOK® and other sources of knowledge. Project management is a very mature competency, and there is no shortage of resources to understand and define best practices, but the key lies in identifying the “critical few” that are key to project delivery success in your project environment. Below is the graphic that depicts the “critical few” included in Cardinal’s PM Foundations program.

Project management best practices

Figure 1: Critical Project Management Best Practices

Practical application of these best practices drives a consistent project management approach, and tangible business results:

  • Quicker ramp-up of project managers
  • Easier integration of projects in a multi-project environment
  • More productive project managers (not inventing processes and tools on the fly)
  • Equips project managers with tools to “fill the gaps” in the client environment
  • Better overall team performance – delivering on customer expectations (including measurement of performance)

These are the tangible business results that separate good project managers apart from “the pack”.

My Top 6 Best Practices

If I could only have 6 best practices to put in my toolkit as I ventured into a new project assignment (or mentor a new project manager), these are the ones I would select.

  1. Project Organization: Forming the project team sounds pretty basic, but it is amazing how many project teams launch the project without performing stakeholder analysis, and defining the project organization. Important elements of the project organization include project sponsors, the core team, and understanding other key stakeholders. The use of a RACI is a flexible and effective tool within this best practice area.
  2. WBS: The WBS defines the scope of the project and breaks the work down into components that can be schedule and estimated, and easily monitored and controlled. Simply put, a WBS is a deliverable oriented hierarchy that defines the work of the project, and only the work of the project. The use of facilitated WBS sessions represents a key technique within this best practice area.

  3. Resource Loaded Project Schedule: The project schedule utilizes the WBS to define the activities, sequence, durations, and resources required to complete the project work. What does a good project schedule look like? Here are a few questions to help test your schedule:

    • Are the deliverables and activities broken down to a level that can be estimated and tracked?
    • Has accountability / responsibility been established for deliverables and activities?
    • Can you easily follow the flow of the project work?
    • Do the milestones appear to be reasonable and achievable?
    • Does the resource usage link appropriately to the project budget?
  4. Managing Project Change: Change is an inevitable element of managing a project – nothing works out exactly as planned. The project manager effectively manages change by maintaining the appropriate balance between control and discipline to manage to the baseline plan, and flexibility to adapt the plans to meet customer expectations. Nobody wants to be “that” project manager that leads a project that delivers on-time and under budget, but still has an unhappy customer. The following are the key aspects of this best practice area:

    • Definition of a change in the context of your project
    • Understanding the sources and early warning signs of change
    • Establishing a process to manage change
    • Measuring the cumulative impact of change
  5. Measuring Performance: This best practice area involves keeping your eye on the appropriate project performance measures to proactively identify potential problems, and engage the team to identify and implement corrective actions. Measuring project performance includes schedule, budget, and supplier performance. Use of earned value to measure schedule and budget performance represents a tool within this best practice area.

  6. Closing the Project: A best practice area that is often minimized or entirely over looked is project closure. At the end of a project, many project managers are busy preparing for their next project or client, and miss a prime opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the client organization. Project closure starts with effectively shutting down project activities, validating all product deliverables are complete and key product issues closed, and smoothly transitioning resources to new roles. The second aspect of this best practice area is preparing the project performance report (also referred to as the post-project assessment. Creating the project performance report includes gathering input from key stakeholders, and identifying improvement actions to be implemented for future projects.

Steve Hart, PMP is the Practice Manager responsible for project leadership & delivery services for the Cardinal Solutions Group in the RTP area. He has 25 years of project management and technical leadership roles, and has developed an extensive practical knowledge that spans a wide variety of industries, and project delivery approaches. Steve recently transferred to the North Carolina Chapter of PMI from the Dayton Ohio PMI Chapter, where he was active as the editor of the chapter newsletter, and PMP certification instructor. You can read more from Steve Hart on his blog.

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