Best Practices in Project Management -- or Better Practice?

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Categories: Best Practices

Best practices in project management are tried and tested processes collected from experiences and lessons learned. They've been repeated and improved to produce consistent outcomes. They are documented as examples, baselines and measures.

Project managers who favor best practices and processes believe it's unnecessary to "reinvent the wheel." They believe using best practices in projects has many advantages:

  1. Project managers have access to tools, techniques, metrics and templates to use on their projects at any time.
  2. Best practices provide consistency of expectation, activities and communication for the team.
  3. They're generally driven by values and results, and can improve customer confidence.
  4. Construction, infrastructure and power projects have best practices as industry norms to standardize quality, safety and other requirements.
Not everyone agrees with using best practices, however. Some argue against the blanket use of best practices because, frankly -- times change.

Best practices for projects from 10 to 20 years ago are outdated as technology and real time communications continue to evolve, for instance. More customers are aware of project management, resulting in changed expectations. And definitions of acceptability, constraints and assumptions may differ from the environment where these best practices originated.

I agree that we shouldn't reinvent the wheel. However, I do stress that the wheel should fit properly in order to fulfill its purpose.  

Best practices are excellent if there is cooperation and consistency in an organization from top to bottom. Rigidly imposed processes that are unwanted and misunderstood cause problems and restrict new thinking.

Project managers should use best practices but they should build, fine-tune and improve them to fit an organization. Should best practices become better practices or best-fit practices so they become molded, enhanced and understood by the organization and the people who will benefit from them?

How do you enhance best practices for your projects? Do you think best practices are near perfect? Do you agree or disagree that extra effort should be applied to mold best practices?
Posted by Saira Karim on: July 20, 2011 12:49 PM | Permalink

Comments (12)

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Hi Saira,

I agree with you that there is no Best Practice that Fits All! Rather, we should use time tested best practices as a 'foundation' and 'framework' to help ask the right questions and develop the best fit practice for the particular project objectives, requirements, constraints and conditions.

I believe the more complex the processes and people interactions the more the need to explore additional processes and tools specific to the project.


Steve Carter
Best practices are great resources and starting points for any PM to consider. But it is important to consider the context of your project, including the size/scope, the type of deliverable, the organizational norms and environment, and the skills and abilities of the project team members.

Blindly applying someone else's best practice can lead to more was a best practice for them and their situation. If your situation is similar, then you have more chances for success. Or if you can modify the practice to fit your situation, you will ensure greater success.

Best practices are great...just be aware of why they worked for others.

Steve Hart
Best practices are most effectively enhanced "in-line" with performing project work.

Effective project offices have a way of soliciting/capturing improvements from project teams. From these inputs the project offices creates organization assets (formalization of the best practice). In addition, nothing will happen with best practice if it is not put into "practice" (this involves communication and training).

Sami Al-Ghamdi
Hi Saira,

Thank you for the good and useful information. I've only worked in project management 2 years in my career but this would benefit most general managers and ones working on projects.

I agree that extra efforts should be applied to mold best practices. My point of view is to also keep an eye on the best practices and the other eye on applying extra efforts in order to enhance and suit the practices with the actual possibilities and ability we have in the project and the organization managing and financing the project.

Now it also depends on how flexible the management of project is to accept the changes that will occur while applying the best practices. I still hear and can tell that, especially in Arab nations or GCC region, organizations and companies don't accept changes. Even if it would provide the best expected outcome, unless a person apply it if she/he owner or CEO of company or organization.

Hope my comment would be useful, thanking you again Saira and wish you all best of luck.


Clark Johnson
Yup, the best practices are the ones that work... AND there is something to be said for integrating template material until you understand what is best for your project.

The point is not to force the project, but to make sure that it can get where it is going. More importantly, that your client looks like a rock star the entire time.

Gautam Gangoli
In an organization, which is continuously executing projects, processes that support the project ensure well-documented project plan, milestones, and deliverables at each stage.

At completion of project, Project Manager is also supposed to document the best practices used for the project, learning’s from the project.

Usually when a Project Manager starts working on a project, he gets access to project management methodology, project plan templates, tools, documentation, best practices and lessons learned.

Project tools, templates are as valuable as time at disposal of project team is usually limited and it is easier to take templates and fit them to the current project scenario. Same is the case with best practices and lessons learned, Project Manager needs to access them, check their relevance to the current project in terms of scope, complexity and objectives.

This documentation is a good starting point but project manager needs to have the flexibility to make changes in them rather than following them rigidly. Project Managers need to use the best practices and further fine-tune and improve them further.

Hajar Hamid
Hi Saira,

I agree with you.

Best practices are meant as guidance. Each project is unique even if the deliverables might be repetitive. Every time we implement, the project climate is different. Thus, best practices from the previous iteration must be tailored to meet current conditions.

Learning process is continuous.

Reetu Kansal
Saira, you have highlighted very interesting aspects of applying best practice to projects and the concept of adapting best practice to meet project objectives, stakeholder requirements and expectations in varying environments.

I work in Quality Assurance in the Higher Education sector, where I am engaged with a number of varied stakeholders in managing academic liaison projects. I increasingly find that the term “Best Practice” is being replaced by “Good Practice.”
This is mainly because it is apparent that there is no one “best” form of practice to prescribe to but a variety of “good” practices that can possibly be subscribed to.

An effective Project Manager picks one or a combination of good practices that suit the project situation and organisational environment to work towards a successful outcome.

Eventually, this may lead to the identification of a suite of good practice, which evolves into a Code of Practice (COP) or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) within organisations. These codes and standards resemble a toolbox, which is updated when better practice becomes evident.

Saira Karim
Thanks all, I think its really interesting to note whether we are in Europe, US, Malaysia or the Arab world, we seem agree that ‘Best Practices’ are ‘foundations’ that require ‘enhancing’ and ‘moulding’ by the project manager.

In addition we should not ‘force the project’ but have a flexible approach to using best practices and that these ‘practices’ are pointless unless they actually work in practice.

Reetu, you've highlighted another perspective to this discussion. I am aware of the term ‘good practice’ and now I believe the US government is using the term ‘leading practice’ for processes that are new and have no previous ‘best practice’.

Anyone come across or used ‘leading practices’?

Dr. Edward Wallington
Hi Saira,

A thought provoking post!

In my view, I certainly agree with you that there is little point in re-inventing anything, if there is a tool/process/approach that can be used, then use it.

Re: terminology, there has been the ongoing debate over 'best practice', 'good practice' etc... I think I prefer the term 'Current Best Practice'... however it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, a little research and some common sense.

A best practice from a number of years ago, a different sector etc may not be ideal for the current intended a current best practice is linked to a time, place, activity etc. By all means we should learn from these, but we should be aware of the intended use and how we intend to use them.



Good post.

As a 'Best Practice Manager' I tend to look at my role in a guidance capacity.

We have processes and procedures in place to follow, in order to: deliver a service, meet the strategic goals of the business and maintain the SLA's to the stakeholder. In addition to this processes and procedures are there to protect those operating in the business.

Day to day I question, ask and discuss the views of people across the business on all levels about certain tasks. I do this to seek out a ways to improve delivery and performance, refine and enhance some of those procedures and processes with the objective to achieving 'Best Practice'.

Top 5 questions:

1. How did the current process assist or hinder the task
2. Who does it affect
3. What lessons were learnt from the task in question
4. How do we integrate the lessons learnt into future tasks
5. What can we do to change it in order to help everyone in the business for the future

The discussions tend to trigger consideration of their own approach to the task.

This is normally a 'win win' for me as straight away they are considering if they have followed 'Best Practice'. They naturally want to improve their own performance. This is validated when inevitably they will approach the subject with me when they next see me, to seek approval.

For me 'Best Practice' is about standards. Set the standard then guide and encourage people to the standard using various methods.

Involvement and communication with staff is absolutely key.

Regards Sarah

Manoj Gajavelli
As we tailor PM concepts (be it from PMI or PRINCE 2), we would also tailor best practices (old or new) to suit a given project / environment; thus neither re-invention of wheel nor obsoleteness of best practices is possible; tailoring a best practice to suit your project / environment, is nothing but its enhancement as far as your project / environment is concerned; no best practice is near perfect for your project / environment - it might have been near perfect for the project / environment where it was developed but as every project is unique, any best practice borrowed from else where definitely needs some tailoring and cannot be adapted as it is; thus, extra effort is definitely needed in moulding / tailoring best practices to your project / environment.

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