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Where Project Management Rigor Meets Flexibility

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In my last post, I described the challenges of maintaining project management rigor in an environment where people are primarily in creative service roles. It appears I hit a chord. A few of you have commented and want to know how I've handled the situation.

Well, first I will say that I believe we will never reach 100 percent compliance with the project management standards you'd expect to find at NASA or a construction site. Creative work is not an exact science and it requires some very non-linear thought and approaches. It can be very hard to pin down a repeatable formula for executing these kinds of projects.   

If there are specific tasks you cannot predict or that don't fit into a prescribed methodology, people tend to simply operate by intuition. The first thing you need to do is to look for the wins. Where in the process can you continue to provide rigor and discipline to help keep the project within boundaries, while avoiding the appearance of overly constraining your teams?

We have done this by creating as flexible a methodology as we can. As a whole, it closely follows the tenets set forth in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). The software development life cycle serves as a foundation: planning, discovery, design, build, test, implement, support, rinse and repeat.
The difference comes in our application. For any given project -- whether it's a marketing e-mail, interactive web banners, mobile applications or full site development -- we have fundamental requirements that don't change. All projects must have a timeline, for instance. And all projects must have a scope, a set of requirements approved and reviewed throughout to ensure we're on target.

Beyond that, it's the diner's choice: Does a four-week e-mail project require a formal matrix of approvers? Probably not, though it would help to have a short list of final approvers. Does an interactive banner need a content matrix or a formal technical architecture? It all depends on what the team needs.

How has your organization tailored its project management approach to account for the unique needs of its project teams?


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1 Comment

It is true that there is a delicate balance between rigor and flexibility. My organization used to have a standard SDLC for all its projects and that kind of methodology provided all the documentation required and all steps were followed - especially since the projects are audited with regards to compliance.

This, however, also meant that even for "small" projects, the team would spend a considerable time in documenting and following all the steps - sometimes even more than the actual work required itself, which meant higher costs for the same benefit and thus a less attractive ROI.

We recently implemented a new set of methodologies/tracks that is based on five general types of projects my organization engages in and it is all based on one "mother" PERT/SDLC for the most complex, time consuming project. The "mother" PERT is then "customized" to fit the other types - the shortest of which is what we call the "Agile Track".

Each one has its own set of rigor but it allows us now to have better flexibility in terms of project management and resource allocation/funding.

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