Beware of perfection when developing project templates

This article will share some thoughts on why as a PMO it is important to be mindful of not allowing perfection to impede progress.  While the principles will be in respect of developing project and PMO templates, the concept can equally be applied to many other areas.

Challenge to developing project templates

An important role of the PMO is to provide direction on standards for tools and processes.  This often includes defining the templates that will be used for status reporting, risk management, change control, etc.

It is crucial that the templates are fit by purpose meaning that they:

  • Capture correct information
  • Easy to use
  • Clearly convey important data
  • Meet stakeholders expectations

Due to these requirements, there is a risk that the templates will go through numerous iterations and reviews in an attempt to meet every last requirement – quite simply trying to achieve perfection.  The consequence is that the templates take a long time to implement and delays achieving the goal of implementing a standard approach so as to gain oversight of progress.

The PMO needs to be particularly mindful that they are not seen as “not delivering” and “over engineering the solution”.  This is a quick path to be accused of being “bureaucratic”, “over head”, etc.

Context

Firstly, it is important to stress that this is not seen as advocating not doing a good job.  It is very important to develop tools and templates that are fit for purpose.  However, it is important to think carefully on “how” this is achieved.

It is normal that the users of a template (those completing and those using to manage), will have different requirements.  This is compounded where the template is to be used across many different projects (each with their own view of what they need).  This can often lead to each stakeholder insisting that their requirements are included before the template is issued.

Then, when the template is issued this will be when the different users enter real data.  During this process it will become clear that changes are required in the template.  Therefore, even though there may have been numerous iterations before publication, perfection will not have been achieved.

Solution

Given the reality that it will be difficult to achieve “perfection”, it is far better to acknowledge this and approach from a position of continuous improvement.  In many ways it is far better to get a useable version of the template into production so that the real feedback loop can start.  This will allow both those entering information and those using the information to really think about what they need from the template.

This concept is aligned to that idea of the “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP).  The principle being that you only deliver the minimum functionality needed for the template to be used.  This approach is very much part of the “lean manufacturing” approach which tries to minimise waste by only implementing features to meet requirements – no “gold plating”.

Important – for this to work you need to make sure that everyone understands the approach and that senior management provide support.  Users need to understand that they are not going to only get “one” chance to define requirements.  Making this clear will help remove barriers to agreeing to move forward and the quest for “perfection”.

A variation of this is approach is the concept of a pilot.  In most organisations, there are users who are very supportive and helpful.  They always try to do what is right and provide constructive feedback.  These users are ideal to choose to pilot new templates.  They will provide feedback in a safe environment ahead of a wider launch.  The additional benefit is that they will be more supportive as they have been consulted early and their feedback incorporated into the design.

The Lean Start Up by Eric Ries coverWhile it does not relate specifically to PMO’s, there is a very good book called The Lean Start Up by Eric Ries.  This covers the concept of the MVP and links to lean manufacturing.  It had some very good concepts that can be applied to many walks of life.

Summary

  • You will not achieve perfection regardless of number of iterations meaning you won’t please everyone
  • Aim to implement the minimum level of functionality on the template (MVP)
  • Seek feedback and iterate

Following these steps will mean that the PMO can deliver value more quickly.