Insight # 75 : Project Productivity: Lessons on Launch, Collaboration and Continual Improvement

5 Must-Have Practices to Enrich Your PM Capability

By Sharath Kumar

It's easy to say that your project management processes will improve by applying best practice, using toolkits and enhancing the skills of your project managers. But how do you achieve this? This article firmly recommends five practices you can easily start to adopt within your organisation, provided you stick to the basics.

1. Know Where Your Data Is
Next to people, data is the most important asset for your company. Project data exists in the organisation in the form of detail information in spreadsheets, plans, reports and related documents. Teams are constantly producing data and transferring raw information into plans, logs and progress reports. You need to keep on top of this information transfer and ensure that a simple structure is maintained for data to be stored securely, managed and harnessed for planning and reporting.
Once you know where all your data is, the rest will follow -- such as making the information easy to access and retrieve and maintaining the quality of the data. Getting visibility of your data will help you focus your effort and time on rationalising the data, making the data more accessible and maintaining a single version of the truth. Consistent maintenance and validation will contribute to good quality data.
Ownership and accountability for data is absolutely key. This reflects good governance of data. Project-critical data must go through a designated authority to be validated and changes authorised. Workflow mechanisms can be established to smooth the approval process.

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2. Leverage Your Toolkit for Better Project Collaboration
The first tools to put to work are those for collaboration to improve PM capability. For example, Microsoft SharePoint can be used to manage, share and collaborate on documents. A SharePoint document library can be configured with attributes to tag and hold project documents.
A flat and simple structure without folders can be created using the attributes by which the views are grouped or filtered. The screenshot below shows how this looks to the user.

Similarly, you can use SharePoint task lists to capture and store your project tasks or milestones. A project plan from Microsoft Project can be synchronised to a SharePoint task list, thus making it easier for other PMs to view your plan.
SharePoint lists can also be used to capture and manage project risks, issues, actions and decisions (RAID). By making certain fields mandatory, you can allow for critical data to be captured in the list. This way, you can improve quality of planning and project data and have all data in one place.
PM practices get better by using tools such as Microsoft Project Server or Project Online to enable project managers to publish their project plans in one place and collaborate more effectively through a common project workflow.

Configured by Pcubed, Microsoft Project Server delivers project management capability and improves collaboration among team members.
By leveraging toolkits for collaboration, you can enhance visibility of your plan and resource data, while also making it easier for other PMs to rely on the project data as a single version of the truth. Project knowledge can be managed better by using SharePoint functionality for collaboration.
3. Implement PM Best Practice Innovatively
Implementing best practice and processes enables project managers to oversee their projects using a proven path and in a consistent manner. Defining and implementing "what good looks like" and drawing from successful experience allow you to do things ever better while gaining efficiency in the process.
Best practice can exist in the form of documentation, policy, operating procedures, processes, tools or templates. Putting all of this in one place that has version control will definitely help. However, a structure is needed that can provide context around why the best practice exists, how it works, where to use it and when it should be employed.
For instance, if we take a methodology such as agile in IT deployments, the structure will consist of content as an end-to-end lifecycle of stages and phases. This is good. However, we need some clear, detailed guidance around what each phase or stage is about and how the activities can be supported by formal templates and examples that help you to execute the activity.
Reviewing best practice regularly is necessary to keep activities relevant to the organisation or function updated with current templates and examples. We advise the use of a subject matter expert to review best practice on a schedule.
4. Weave Change Management into Your Project Journey
Managing change should be done consciously during the lifecycle of the project. Right from the beginning, change-related activities must be identified and performed through the stages of the project. For example, for a business transformation project the case for change must be established before the start of the project, answering crucial questions such as, "Why carry out this transformation initiative?" and "What are the benefits of the transformation?"
The case for change will establish a strong foundation for the transformation and will also serve as input for the project brief. Throughout the initiative by identifying and keeping track of stakeholders, you can get clues for how to convert stakeholders from change "blockers" to change "advocates" and so on. This will lead to more effective project delivery.
Change is about winning the "hearts and minds" of people involved in the activities and the outcomes. Consistently embedding change activities in your project delivery will ensure better project management capability for the organisation.
5. Register Lessons Learned
Documenting your lessons during the project's delivery will help you learn from past mistakes, allow you to reuse intellectual property and improve practices within the business. As one example, tracking what worked and didn't work in regards to the project team, its performance, dynamics and interactions will help the team address problem areas and perform better in its next engagement.
Similarly, documenting the lessons learned during the delivery of the project will help identify mistakes, flag risks early on and lead to earlier problem resolution to ensure more effective project delivery.
To summarise, these five basic and achievable practices can help you improve project management capability within your business. While each principle is unique, they're all fairly pragmatic and can be picked up quickly by individuals. Don't delay. Put these must-haves into practice to start building your team's reputation for continual improvement -- a reputation that will prove valuable when management is identifying who should be involved in the next new project.