“Best Practices” is a term which is used very loosely in project as well as other business contexts. Often people use the term when they mean those practices which can be employed with high probability of success across organizational or company boundaries.

But the real context of the application of Best Practices is within a single organizational context itself. Harold Kerzner, a recognized project management authority around the world, has defined Best Practices as “those processes, procedures or practices which a company or project applies to other similar situations because they have proved to be valuable or successful in the past and they can be assumed to be successful again in the future.”

Let me give you an example from real life that may bring this meaning home. My wife and I usually divide up the laundry duties. She starts the washing machine and I dry and fold the clothes in the dryer. Our daily wash load usually consists of two or three bath towels, four hand towels, four wash clothes and various other white goods. Now, from my experience with folding the dryer load many times, I have developed a practice whereby I always fold the bath towels first. Why? Because, removing the largest load items from the dryer makes it easier and more productive to fold the remaining clothes. It is faster. I have established this as a Best Practice within my household context.

Now, if I were to tell my neighbor on our cul-de-sac that he could employ my “Best Practice” to speed up his laundry process, I may or may not be correct. My “Best Practice” may not apply equally across the board to others. Why? Because he has a different laundry context. He may have a different size or composition of laundry load which doesn’t yield a faster operation because of its unique context.

That is why we must be careful not to assume that one project’s or company’s Best Practices might be applied equally well to another context. It is only after repeated application of the “Best Practice” in a similar project or business context that we can define it as a true Best Practice.

Of course, some basic business practices like using a template for notes for a meeting might be applied across the board as a Best Practice because of the tried and true nature of using such a template in many contexts.

I hope this has cast a new light on project Best Practices for you.

Mel Bost

Every project manager has been faced at one time or another with capturing, documenting and sharing lessons learned from projects. Besides being a PMBOK Best Practice, it is also a recognized activity by most larger project management organizations and communities in modern project work.

The focus of most project lessons learned activities is on the project itself. What did the project team learn about its project behavior and actions that could be captured for future project managers to benefit from in the project community? Very little work has been done on the other major contributing factor in project lessons learned however. This is of course the “project environment.” Every project is subject to a project environment created by the organization and the external environment in which people function everyday. The neglect of the project environment as a major factor in driving team behavior and influencing outcomes and project lessons learned means that the focus on continuous improvement in the project community has been almost exclusively on the lessons learned from individual completed projects.

However, the potential exists for far reaching leveraging actions to be taken regarding the project environment and the “structure” of that environment that could benefit all future projects as well as provide meaningful insights into project team behavior. And the resulting implications for Knowledge Management are just as great. Knowledge focused on the project environment can provide insights into how we design future project communities which are robust, productive, team inspiring and which lead to greater success for all projects.

This was the subject of my paper presentation at the 3rd Knowledge and Project Management Symposium (KPM) in Tulsa in August 2008. Using some “systemic thinking” principles from Peter Senge and Daniel Kim, I looked at several projects in a corporate environment that were “playing in the same space.” In other words, they were subject to the same project environmental “structure,” policies and procedures. The project team behavior in each case was driven by that “structure” or by the policies in place. So the leveraging factor in improving the performance of those project teams and the projects resided in an examination of the project environment.

By three methods we may learn wisdom:
– First, by reflection, which is noblest;
– Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and
– Third by experience, which is bitterest.

Those of you who have seen the movie “The Ron Clark Story” already know about the remarkable efforts of a dedicated teacher in inner city New York who developed a learning atmosphere for his elementary students which contributed to them excelling in the classroom at the highest level in every subject. Subsequent to Ron Clark’s success in the New York schools, he visited every state to talk with students, teachers and school administrators about what he had learned and how his students performed.

What he found in his journeys were the same characteristics everywhere that he had identified to be success factors in his own classroom experiences. He found dedicated teachers and students and administrators everywhere who displayed some key attributes which, when tapped fully, created a learning experience that resulted in success and a learning environment that could not be denied regardless of the social setting or the prior experiences of the students and teachers.

When he wrote his second book “The Excellent Eleven,” he focused on eleven characteristics of high performing classroom, living and learning environments that contributed to student success. One of those characteristics was “Reflection.” Ron used reflection to instill emotion in the students’ experiences with their present day studies. At the end of every major section of work, he had the students write down their impressions of what they had just experienced and how it affected them. What types of things were going on their lives at the same time, what emotions they felt as they mastered each subject, what relationships they experienced. Many of the students remarked that, after reading their own reflections a significant time later than the actual events, they were amazed at the “images “ the reflections created in their minds and the tendency to revisit those images as they experienced new, more challenging situations and environments.

“Reflection” is something we don’t usually allow ourselves to experience because we are too busy getting on to the next task at hand, too busy hurrying to the next assignment that we don’t pay attention fully to what we have created in the last assignment, too busy grappling with the next hurdle because it is there rather than analyzing why we felt a certain way about our work just completed.

Yet reflection is the very essence of what many of Ron Clark’s students stated as being the most significant experiences they remember and the most often called upon thoughts when they faced really formidable challenges in future years.

If you are a project manager or a project team member, make time to “reflect” in a written form at regular intervals what you feel about your experiences on projects, what observations you experienced when facing new hurdles, what paths of accomplishment you have just taken to reach a successful plateau, what thoughts you would share with another person who might be faced with a similar challenge.

The words of Confucius on Wisdom will resonate in your mind over and over as you attempt new and more challenging tasks. “Reflection” will help you to tackle all things that seem formidable. Sharing those reflections with others will help cement relationships that are so valuable to the maintenance of the community of project managers and team members going forward.

Thanks for your indulgence,

Mel Bost

Choose five Project Deliverables for your project–these are developed by groups within your business.  You have  little control today over the workplans and priorities for developing the Project Deliverables.

Develop a plan for the five Project Deliverables which outlines the following:

  1. How you plan to “influence” the groups in developing the deliverables on time and on budget.
  2.  How you plan to track progress on the plan in (1) above.
  3. How you plan to mitigate the risk involved if the Deliverable appears to be late or not to budget standards.
  4. How you plan to interact with other groups who interface with the five Project Deliverable groups to insure that they contribute any portion of the Deliverables to the primary group.

Mel Bost

I have over 15 years’ experience administering Project Management Offices (PMOs).

Now, I am bringing my expertise to you. 

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Mel Bost with the Heisman Trophy

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