Many organisations adopt a “PM Methodology”, often without giving enough thought to what that means or how it is documented and published.
My working definition is: “How we do things around here”. It is the what and how of applied project management, including the tools and templates, within a specific ecosystem.
A methodology needs to relate to an organisation’s environment, including the systems, processes and culture. What this means is that adopting an industry standard framework (Prince2, PMI, APM, ITIL, ISO21500, Scrum, etc) is all well and good, but it can never be sufficient. Someone needs to think through and explain to the PMs how to apply the framework in the specific organisational context.
How to do this? From the reader’s perspective (i.e. the PM), it needs to be:
- Relevant and practical
- Easy to access and to use
- All in one place, including processes, templates and links
- Relevant to first-time users as well as to experienced practitioners
For the custodian of PM best practice, it needs to be easy and rapid to maintain.
In the bad old days, a PM Handbook was a physical document in a binder. Typically, these took many months to author, and then suffered a very slow and expensive update cycle, with perhaps a new iteration after a year. In practice they seldom survive beyond Version 2. Of course, a paper document can’t easily contain templates – so they were often accompanied by a CD or a website, which rather starts to defeat the purpose. Worst of all, handbooks in binders tend to be read once (at most) and then left on the shelf.
Intranet sites can be a good solution, the downside being that they are sometimes cumbersome to administer. But it is at least possible to document the process, attach templates, and provide links to related corporate tools.
A downloadable handbook is a workable solution. The main part of the handbook might be a Powerpoint or Visio document, and templates can be embedded. However it relies on users downloading the latest version periodically. It has the advantage that it can be used off-line, so the PM doesn’t need to have always-on internet access.
I have seen unsuccessful attempts at publishing PM methodology using a process management tool. Unfortunately most are not designed to be read by mere mortals; you have to be a trained process expert to decode the flow-chart symbols typical of these systems. So you end up with something loved by the process experts, but hated by the project managers.
However, there are business process tools that provide tidy and human-readable output. The best I’ve ever used is Tibco Nimbus, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this as a way to publish a PM handbook. Unfortunately it is intended as a top-down corporate tool and is a bit overkill, hence unlikely to be cost-justified just for project management purposes. But if it is available in your corporate environment, then definitely go ahead and make use of it.
I have recently come across Skore, which is a lightweight tool that is ideal for documenting a simple project management process, but without the sophistication of Nimbus. Here is a generic PM Handbook authored in Skore, including some simple templates (click the diagram to open the handbook in a new window).
This version can be used as it stands, but of course it has not been tailored to any organisation. It is now ready for additional context-specific detail and links, and additional levels of drill-down where needed. It would also be possible to adapt it to Prince2, APM, PMI or other methods and terminology.
The attributes of this PM Handbook are:
- Uses the “Seven Essentials” structure
- Templates can be found in context, within the process flow
- Easy to access and navigate
- Easy to maintain
- Can be tailored to suit any organisation