You look across your organization and see a wide variation between your good project managers and the weaker ones. Everyone seems to be doing their own thing and no one is taking advantage of your organization’s best practices. You say to yourself, “If I only had a good project management methodology, I could raise the performance level of the weaker PMs by standardizing on best practices, plus everyone would know what to expect.”

Your right, a good project management methodology will benefit your organization and its employees immensely. Performance levels of newbies and experienced PMs will rise and supervising them will become a lot easier.

Deciding that you need a methodology is the easy part though. Developing one or customizing an off the shelf version is a monumental challenge. As with all process, identifying what data needs to be captured is fairly simple. Forms and templates can be easily created, in fact, this is usually where creators of project management methodologies start. They develop very detailed project charters, scope statements, project plans, Work Breakdown Structures (WBS), change control forms, etc. However, this is also where the creators get jammed up and leave out important parts of the methodology. During the majority of the project’s life-cycle, with all forms and templates complete, PMs need to know what to do on Monday morning when they come into the office.

The day-to-day work is when PMs are faced with tasks that were supposed to start but didn’t, tasks that were scheduled to be completed but need more time, and new tasks that need to be added to the pile of existing ones. Because of this the schedule will need to be revised to reflect the new reality. Strategies and actions will need to be developed to try and get the project back on track or more in line with the project’s triangle flexibility guidelines. Plus, all the stakeholders will want to know the new current status of the project. This is where a cyclic routine is needed to provide some structure to the ad hoc nature of project management.

A project management methodology with lots of forms and templates that ask for the minutest level of useless detail will die a slow death and benefit no one. Project managers do not have an issue with rigorous methodologies as long as they are practical and beneficial. If all you give them is rigor and little help, then, come Monday morning they will reject or placate it.

A first step in creating your organization’s initial project management methodology should be to hunt around and grab an off-the-shelf version. Most likely it will be thorough enough for your initial draft and if it is a popular one the initial kinks will have already been ironed out. Don’t start with Project Management Institute’s (PMI)® Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) though. It is far too detailed for the beginner and consists of a set of forms, templates, and job aids that do not have an integrated cyclic routine for the Monday morning PM. Do try customizing it by cutting out anything that is not highly valuable. Instead of using a committee to do this, grab two or three star PMs and let them make the decisions. Also, don’t try and achieve perfection in one fell swoop. Start with an understanding that you will have numerous revisions in the first two years of the methodology’s existence. Take the initial draft, use it for four months and ask what could be better. Then revise it and go another four months and do the same. With every version give multiple examples of what you are asking for. Don’t leave the PMs wondering.

It’s also imperative that you select a project management software tool to standardize with. No project management methodology can exist and grow on its own. Here again, start simple. Microsoft Project’s single user version is a great starting point. Use only the most valuable feature at first then add others as time goes on. Major enhancements can be added later, even with components from vendors other than Microsoft.

As you move through the maturation process you will begin integrating the software tools, forms, and templates into a nice cyclic routine. Soon you will realize that not all projects need to follow the same level of rigor, causing you to declare that smaller projects do not need to follow this or that.

At this point you will have a rigorous methodology that provides tremendous value and  you will be able to say to yourself, “I have a good project management methodology and I’m raising the performance level of my PMs because I’ve standardized on best practices and know what is expected of everyone.” Wouldn’t that be nice!

*PMBOK is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.