Best Practice in Project Management

What if Best Practice is not best practice?

In Project Management, the term “Best Practice” has become very popular. Too often, it is overused. At worst, it is pure marketing-speak.

Is Prince2 best practice?The term “Best Practice” is applied to methods and frameworks like PMBok, Prince2, Hermes, APM and so on, each with its literature, training organisations, exams and certifications. There is an industry around each one – often, a significant commercial structure, which promotes and defends its own version of the truth as Best Practice. Under this commercial pressure, Best Practice has changed for the worse.

What should “Best Practice” mean? It should be a reflection of current practice – techniques and ways of working which are widely and currently used with success. But too often today in Project Management, Best Practice is a long way from that ideal:

  • it is a reflection of theory rather than practice
  • it is difficult to use (and needs considerable simplification to be usable)
  • it is static and does not integrate improvements or new practices

Prince2 is a product to be sold not to be used

Take the example of Prince2. With over 1 million people certified worldwide, it’s not an exaggeration to say that there is a Prince2 industry. It’s a publishing, training and certification industry.

Evidently Prince2 is quite easy to sell. The sales process is driven by exams and certification. A million books, a million training courses, a million exams. It only takes 3 or 5 days of training to be certified. The sales process feeds into an HR process: increasingly, certification drives hiring, recruitment, and promotions.

Behind this certification industry, the practical reality is less happy. What is learned in the classroom is not used in the field.

Prince2 has a number of strengths, but being easy to implement is not one of them. It is a book of 327 pages, describing seven processes, seven themes and 26 documents. To implement Prince2, you need to simplify it drastically. Much of the so-called Best Practice must be omitted, or Prince2 will not work.

Learning Prince2 has undeniable value. And in today’s job market, getting certified is potentially quite useful. But the next step after the classroom is hard to take. It’s way beyond the capacity of the average Project Manager to implement Prince2 as an individual effort. In the exam room, all 327 pages of Best Practice are equally important. Freshly certified, back at his or her desk, the Project Manager has a Herculean task: how to simplify Prince2? What to keep, what to ignore? What is important, what is secondary?

Even many PMOs struggle with Prince2. It’s sufficiently difficult to implement Prince2 that many organisations fail to benefit from Prince2. They fail to simplify Prince2, they lose their way. Often teams say that they use Prince2, but it’s no longer true. It’s a thinly disguised fiction: there’s even an acronym to describe this state: PINO (Prince in name only).

Look for Good Practice in the field, not in the classroom

By simplifying Prince2, some teams innovate. They create new practices. But, today, none of this gets fed back into Prince2. There is no feedback loop from the field to the classroom.

We need to do better. Lean3 will stimulate the identification and sharing of current practice that works, and will call this Good Practice (rather than Best Practice), following the lead of Ivar Jacobson.

Agile has shown the way. The Agile community discusses and debates on the Internet, on social networks, at conferences. In Agile, failing ideas are criticised, new practices are shared. There are robust and active feedback loops to ensure that Agile Good Practice is a real reflection of current practice in the real world. We need a reality check for the rest of Project Management, and that’s one reason why Lean3 has been created. Watch this space.

Written by Jeff on October 12, 2016 in blog
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