IPMA International Project Management Association
30 April 2021 / 10:39

From Best Practices to Baseline Practices: Is that the path to follow?


“If you want your success to go viral .. think unique.”

Project management is typically regarded as a structured mechanism of delivering projects. It embodies a variety of best practices. By definition best practices are the preferred ways, approaches, tools, and techniques to accomplish project tasks. Because tasks in a project are typically inter-dependent, so best practices, in hindsight, are inter-dependent too. While the effect of inter-dependencies of best practices may not be explicitly visible; certainly they carry a significant influence on the project outcome.

Best practices are identified and codified on the basis of a considerable amount of research and efforts. As such, the use of the best practice approach is regarded as beneficial for project delivery. However – due to a variety of reasons – its broad applicability has remained a challenge. The differing work cultures, the varying levels of knowledge and skills of people, and lack of maturity in project management are some of the many reasons that make it challenging to use best practices. Additionally, project management is used in a variety of industries and environmental contexts, so best practices may not fit well to the context at each instance. This raises the question of what can be done about it?

One way to go about it is to perhaps shift from a best practice to a baseline practice approach.

Let’s first define it. By definition, a baseline is “ is a fixed point of reference that is used for comparison purposes” (https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/baseline.asp). Drawing upon this conceptualization, we define a baseline practice approach as a context-flexi reference approach consisting of processes, tools/techniques, and methods which can be scaled on the basis of complexity, context, and work involved in the project.

Having defined the baseline practice approach, the difference between best vs. baseline practice approach is obvious. The former is a preferred approach whereas the latter is a reference approach. Being the reference approach provides a number of advantages and we discuss some of such advantages below.

Advantages of a baseline practice approach

1) Context-flexi approach

The real benefit of taking a baseline practice approach is its Fit-for-Context characteristics. A baseline practice approach is expected to fit any environment and work culture easily.

For instance, a baseline practice approach for requirements gathering could just be as simple as ‘Requirement gathering done formally, recorded and approved by a competent staff.”  Now how many techniques and methods are used to collect requirements or what processes are used to refine requirements will depend on the context and the environment of the project. As long as the requirements are gathered formally, recorded, vetted, and approved by competent staff; that would suffice for a baseline practice-based approach.

The level of formality and granularity of processes and techniques used to gather requirements can be decided based on the complexity and context of the project. That makes the baseline practice approach a context-flexi approach.

2) Easy to Digest-and-Act approach for people with varying knowledge levels or beginners

Not everyone working in the project management domain has the same level of knowledge. Some may be at a basic level, others may be at an intermediate or advanced level. The baseline approach, in hindsight, will be very attractive to people of varying knowledge levels as such. A person having basic knowledge in project management will more likely be able to decipher the guidelines enshrined in the baseline practice approach and should feel more at ease.

As such, the baseline practice approach will be easy to digest and act for beginners in project management and is likely to shorten the learning curve for beginners. The baseline practice approach could prove to be a motivator for people to join the PM profession and that will help the growth of the profession.

3) Less knowledge and document intense

The baseline practice approach will be light on documentation and less knowledge-intensive. Such a feature will make the approach more palatable and attractive to a broader audience coming from different cultures, work ethos, knowledge backgrounds, and educational qualifications, among others. The baseline practice approach will also make it easy to integrate and use localized project management practices because the baseline practice approach will be light on documentation and high on flexibility. Figuratively speaking, a baseline approach will have less strings attached to it and hence people can scale it as they deem necessary and make it fit to the context.

4) Scalable to context

The baseline practice approach will be scale-able to context. Depending on the size, complexity, capital investment, and resource involvement; the baseline approach could be scaled to fit the needs of the project. In hindsight, the baseline practice approach will require to be upgraded and integrated with the best practice approach for medium to large-sized projects to provide more sophistication to project delivery. In all cases, the baseline practice approach will be a handy starting point to get on with the work on the project.

5) Easy to update and disseminate

The baseline practice approach will be easy to update and keep fresh as per changing needs of the overall project management profession. Given it will be less knowledge-intensive broadly covering the key aspects of project delivery; the baseline practice approach could be updated in little time and may not require years of formalized version update efforts. Moreover, the time needed to conduct research and approve any updates to the main body of baseline practice approach knowledge-base will be less as localized or industry-specific variations in project management practices will not be of concern to baseline approach updates.

Dissemination of baseline practice approach guidelines will be less time-consuming as the guideline documentation will be short. In the same vein, the guideline documentation will be easy to translate in various languages, thus improving their accessibility and use by people who prefer to use guidelines in their own language. Easy availability of baseline practice approach in local language is expected to improve chances of getting ongoing feedback, and incorporating the same into guidelines to keep the guidelines fresh and relevant on an ongoing basis.

‘Less is more’ is an old adage that still works. While projects are traditionally regarded as ‘systemic-beings’, perhaps there is a need for projects to transition to become ‘organic beings due to changing needs of the time. Read a somewhat detailed discussion on the transition from ‘Systematic-beings’ to ‘Organic-being’ by clicking this link

One way to make projects ‘organic beings’ is to simplify the structured layout of project delivery guidelines. This seems also wise as the fast-paced development in technologies enabling information gathering and processing on an ongoing basis is resulting in people being inundated with new knowledge all the time – making flexibility critical to success. The situation, thus, highlights the need to make project management guidelines flexible in order to enable quick integration of new knowledge into project management practices.

Given the above, we have proposed an outline of the baseline practice approach. The idea is to have a context-flexi approach for project delivery. A simple, easy to adopt and use project delivery guidelines are expected to broaden the reach of the project management profession. Needless to say, the proposed baseline practice approach outline discussed above is aimed at building new thought in relation to guideline mechanism and should not be considered as conclusive or complete.

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© 2021 Jiwat Ram, All Rights Reserved.

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Author of this post

Jiwat is a Professor in Project Management. He has considerable experience of working internationally in diverse cultures and business environments.

Jiwat is currently serving on the Editorial Board of International Journal of Project Management.

Jiwat actively contributes to project management community. His work has been published in top scientific journals and Four of his published papers have remained in Top25 most downloaded papers. Additionally, two of his papers have been ranked as the Most Cited article published since 2012. More recently, he has published a number of articles on some of the issues confronting project management in various industry based outlets.