I was copied on an e-mail between a senior manager in the legal department and Larry, the project manager charged with creating a contract tracking application. I did not recognize Larry’s name and realized that he was new with Blue Sky Manufacturing. His e-mail message concerned me so I decided to pay him a visit.
“Larry, I saw from a recent e-mail message that you were starting to create a Project Charter for this project,” I said. “I thought it might be helpful to talk about the terminology we use here. Your sponsor is probably more familiar with the term Project Definition. When you say ‘Charter’ he may not know what you mean.”
“I saw the Project Definition template that you use,” Larry replied. “But I am very comfortable using a Project Charter document from my old company. In fact, I think it is a better document for defining a project than what you are using here.”
“I would like to see your Charter template. If it's good, perhaps there are some features we can utilize in our standard Project Definition.”
“I think there is,” Larry added. “In fact, I have a whole series of templates. I will be able to plan and manage this project much more quickly if I use these. Everyone in my old company used them.”
“Really?” I questioned. “Why was it that everyone used them?”
“They were the standard templates for the whole organization,” he said. “That’s why I know them so well. You couldn’t run a project without using them.”
Now I could sum up the reason for my visit. There is a tremendous value in having a common set of project management processes and forms. Larry’s old company had standards. I showed him where to find the template library in our organization. If Larry has ideas on how to improve them, I would incorporate his input into our project management forms.
Part of the benefit of utilizing a standard project management process is that project managers have a set of processes and templates that they can use without having to reinvent them every time. This standard helps managers complete projects on time and at a lower cost. It takes a little investment up front to learn the common processes, but then there are efficiencies on every subsequent project. In addition to the project manager, there is also value to the customers and to the entire project team in being comfortable with the major processes and deliverables associated with a project.
In Larry’s case, he was taking a much too narrow view when he said that he would be more productive with the templates from his old company. Although that may, in fact, have been correct for him, it is much less efficient from an organizational perspective. If people introduce new templates, it forces the rest of the team and the customer into a learning mode and introduces confusion instead of comfort. If this continued with other project managers, the standards themselves break down and become meaningless. The better approach is for Larry to invest the time to learn and utilize the current company standards.
On the other hand, new people come in with new ideas that can make things better. So, after understanding how the processes and templates work at Blue Sky Manufacturing, Larry should bring forward any recommendations for improvement. That way, if his ideas are accepted, everyone can leverage the benefits of the revised processes.
Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project management and life-cycle skills. He's also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project-management methodology called TenStep.