The Art of Tailoring: Making Your Project Management Methodology Fit

This blog is a reminder for those who know already, an introduction for those who are not yet aware of tailoring, and general call to action for all project managers to consider ways to work smarter and more effectively thorough proper and appropriate tailoring of project management methodologies.

A methodology is an appropriate, professional, repeatable, standardised and documented collection of processes, tools, technique and template for managing projects. The methodology is what you use to deliver your projects. It should reflect the size, complexity and industry of your projects.  It should be based on best practice such as a body of knowledge like the PMBOK® Guide. It should be easily located and understood by all project team members.  It should also be subject to the process of continuous improvement to make sure it is kept up to date with any changes.

A methodology is your organisations particular collection of processes, tools and techniques and templates that you choose to use. Tailoring is the processes of choosing which of these are appropriate to use on any given project. One size doesn’t fit all. You methodology doesn’t suit my projects, but your methodology also doesn’t suit all your projects. It should also be flexible and scalable enough to be able to be used on all your projects. This must be kept in mind when developing or changing your project management methodology.

Within your organisation it is the project management office (PMO) that is responsible for developing, monitoring and improving your project management methodology.

When it comes to the process of developing, or changing, your project management methodology you have two main options available to you. You can choose to develop your own methodology or to use an already developed one available as an off-the-shelf solution usually for a fee.

If you choose to develop your own one, the most important part for getting this right is to have people with the right level of experience, passion and commitment to make sure the development doesn’t stop half way through. Developing your own methodology is not a single event, it takes time and iterations to ensure it is correct. It also requires a champion who will commit to seeing the initial process to completion. Too many good initiatives have been left to flounder due to the absence of a champion. The benefits of developing your own methodology is that you can leverage off existing intellectual property, accommodate the organisational culture and get by in from the project management team by seeking their input on what constitutes an appropriately tailored methodology. A disadvantage to making your own methodology is the time and effort it takes to get it from initiation to working methodology with processes, tools and templates.

There are many off-the-shelf solutions for a project management methodology and of the ones I have seen, most claim they can be customised to suit. However, most people don’t see this and assume that simply by taking an off the shelf solution that it will solve all their problems. The benefits of getting an off-the-shelf solution is that it is available right away and it is a known methodology. The drawbacks are that people assume that because it works for someone else that it will work for them when this is not always the case. The instant methodology does not reflect the organisational culture or industry. Also, there is no control over intellectual property and there can be a lack of buy in and support from project team members.

Tailoring is “For any given project, the project manager, i n collaboration with the project team, is always responsible for determining which processes are appropriate, and the appropriate degree of rigor for each process. Project managers and their teams should carefully address each process and its inputs and outputs. The PMBOK ® Guide should be used as a guide in managing a project while considering the overall approach and methodology to be followed for the project.” (The PMBOK® Guide 5th edition exposure Draft). The concept of tailoring has grown in importance over the years with different versions of the PMBOK® Guide giving it more emphasis. The phrase ‘tailor’ or ‘tailoring’ is used 0 times in the 2nd edition, 10 times in the 3rd edition, 13 times in the 4th edition, and 11 times in the exposure draft of the 5th edition

Tailoring your project management methodology is an important step in organisational project management maturity and also in getting people to use and improve your In the absence of an appropriately tailored project management methodology, people will tailor their own solutions. Here are some signs that your project management methodology is not tailored correctly.

  1. Project team members are not using the methodology
  2. Project team members are independently modifying the methodology
  3. Your methodology features process for the sake of process
  4. Your methodology is one-size-fits-all approach to projects of differing sizes and complexity

The benefits of a tailored approach to your project management methodology are:

  1. Buy in from team members
  2. Customer oriented focus
  3. Focus on best-for-project approach
  4. More efficient use of project resources

There are three stages to tailoring your project management methodology.

The first is the initial tailoring you do to select those elements that will form your project management methodology. Here, you select from a body of knowledge such as the PMBOK® Guide, all those processes, tool and techniques that are appropriate to the styles of projects you are doing based on their complexity and size. Factors which influence the choices you make in developing a project management methodology are project size, complexity, organisation and team culture, and internal and external constraints. Once this initial process is complete you will have a methodology that is able to be used for your projects. Obviously if your projects are all largely similar then the methodology will be a fairly standardized one used without much change between projects. If however, the size and complexity of your projects varies considerably, then this first stage in tailoring your methodology will result in a scalable and flexible methodology that can be adapted to be used on all your projects. Some specific examples of scalability and flexibility include the type and size of any project charter, the range of scope definition and extent of planning completed and, the effort put into risk management and communications management.

The second stage is the tailoring you do before starting a project to determine what elements of your project management methodology you are going to us for this particular project. This process should involve both the project manager and the PMO in deciding which elements of the organisations’ project management methodology are appropriate for this particular project. An easy way to do this is simply to divide projects into small, medium and large projects and have a different set of processes, tools and templates for each category. There are other, more complex ways of making these decisions as well.

The third stage of tailoring is completed during the execution of the project where you are checking that the particular combination of elements you have selected is still appropriate and you are not over cooking or undercooking a project. Tailoring is an iterative process done throughout the entire project lifecycle. The PMO should have an input into this review process, and oversee and approve any changes. Adding your lessons learned about the application of your selected methodology to your lesson learned process helps other project managers in the future.