by: Klaus Nielsen, PMBOK® Guide-Seventh Edition Development Team member
Tailoring the project development approach is a bit like tailoring clothes based on individual measurements—we plan and execute projects according to individual project objectives and the characteristics of the project. Since each project is unique, it is important to understand that project management processes will likely need to be adjusted to ensure the project’s success. Project customizations consider that project management processes are not “one size fits all,” which means that there will be many times where processes need to be adjusted to ensure project success.
In many ways tailoring is reminiscent of the work of a tailor, which requires dexterity, color sense and a good form perception. There are other project management competencies; but, like the tailor, there is also the need to help the client / project choose the right model and fabric. We project managers take project objectives and work out a pattern that needs to be cut, stitched and worked on. A tailor’s customers also have measurements other than standard sizes, where a sample model may need to be sewn in canvas and customized before it is cut into the right, expensive fabric. Most projects are not “standard off the shelf.” As a project manager, you also do preparatory work, perhaps conducting an analysis or Proof of Concept. A tailor sews in both thin and thick materials —primarily using sewing machines but also by hand if needed. As project managers we work with traditional and agile project development models, or a combination (hybrid). No clients or projects have completely standard measurements (objectives) and none of them are exactly alike. They are unique, which require project manager’s and the tailor’s best choices and customizations.
When we tailor, it is because what we must do is different from what we have just made (i.e., the scope or amount of what the project should contain is quite different). One project may be a metro building in the capital, while another is an office building in a housing district. Yes, these are both buildings, so a large part of the same toolbox can be used, but these are two vastly different projects, so they must be tackled in different ways. It is not much different than a tailor’s customers: one wants a whole winter wardrobe, the other just a small black dress for a big family party.
The development approach must be individually tailored based on the context, but we also need to get the best result and, in the process, eliminate time spent on unnecessary tasks. The scope of the task affects the resources we need to solve the task, how we approach the task, and the uncertainties associated with the work and ultimately the cost and result for the customer.
As a public contractor, I may want to run an EU tender to buy an IT system, which includes a number of processes, but then I have to implement the IT system in the organization and ensure that every stakeholder derives benefit from the IT system, which leads to tailoring even more processes. In this case, the complexity changes from one tender and implementation to another, which has far higher complexity, including other competencies that need to be used.
A tailor may need to do cutting, alignment, sewing and design, while the project manager’s processes are about initiating, planning, execution and closure, but the message is the same. Regardless of which task is to be solved, it is often advantageous to tailor processes to only what is needed.
Tailoring is difficult to outsource. It requires testing and adjustments along the way before delivering the finished product. Back to our tailor example, if a dress was a dress and all women had the same size, taste, finances and the like, then perhaps it doesn’t matter who does the tailoring or if tailoring is done at all. But these personal attributes are not fixed, and each individual is unique. The same goes for projects. Projects have different funding models, varying time demands, multiple expectations from stakeholders and uncertainties associated with the work processes. Therefore, it is important to customize the development approach based on the context. Tailoring the development approach based on the context is important to enable the project to meet expected outcomes. The following are just a few of the considerations when tailoring the development approach based on context. Remember, no two projects are not the same, but tailoring:
- Helps reduce the complexity of the project.
- Means that we continuously optimize our use of resources, thereby reducing waste and contributing to increasing progress.
- Is about creating the just-needed process and maximizing the value of the project.
- Helps to make active choices rather than just waiting to see what happens.
- Applies experience.
- Minimizes project threats while enabling the capture of opportunities.
- Builds a bridge to and creates space for different approaches.
- Should always challenge the way we work, regardless of processes that already exist.
- Influences which project adjustments should be made. Some are more impactful than others.
- Can increase the probability of project success.