The importance of tailoring a work methodology with an agile mindset

In the Business Dictionary, Tailoring is identified as “adapting requirements or specification to the current of operational needs through deletion, modification, and/or supplementation, without deviating from a norm”.

This concept in Project management comes from Prince2, where the same can be modified and literary “tailored” to fit the project’s purpose.

Projects have different sizes and shapes, they can be easy or complex, involve multiple stakeholders or just a small group of people.

In general, a work methodology can be modified infinitely. For example, if a project is small and the need is to simplify the process to make sure we avoid too much bureaucracy, we can decide to select only certain aspects and techniques that will allow us to reach our goals smoothly.

When tailoring a method, there are five crucial points to keep in mind to ensure we are doing it successfully and effectively:

1. Understand the project’s environment and “adapt”

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This means that you will need to deep dive and take into consideration the following variables:

  • The project scale
  • The project type
  • The organisation type
  • The culture
  • The geographical location
  • The risk appetite of the organisation (how much risk are they willing to take? What is their attitude to risks in general?)

As you can imagine, all these variables are decisive to understand:

  • how to “approach” the project,
  • how to “adapt” the project to the customer and organisations’ needs,
  • which “method” is the most appropriate depending on the environment.

Even though the organisation is using Agile as a preferred work methodology, this doesn’t mean that the project you will be working on will be!

What you can do to make sure, you will be doing the most accurate choice is to use an empirical approach based on analysing the data you have and the circumstances you are facing. If you do this, even unconsciously, you will be applying an Agile way of thinking even if your choice will fall on a traditional project management method.

Isn’t exciting to use your wide knowledge and elastic background to be the best project manager you can possibly be?

2. Lessons learned from previous projects

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If you have a way of getting your hands on “Lessons reports” from previous projects, you should definitely use it to your advantage. They are an invaluable source of insights and will give you directions on “what went well” and “what didn’t go so well“. You could analyse similar patterns and do some research by interviewing other project managers in the organisation to find out “what success looks like” on that specific environment.

Again, this is a very Agile friendly concept: by using the retrospective method, you can learn from past mistakes and choose the appropriate path to success.

3. Be flexible, if it doesn’t work you don’t have to stick to it at any cost

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I am sure that many of us have experienced this once or twice in their work-life: wanting to go all the way through your plans and finding hard to change direction halfway.

It’s incredibly disappointing to realise that what you thought was going to work, it’s actually falling to pieces and not giving the benefits you envisioned at the beginning.

Don’t beat your self up, there is always a way of transforming a mistake into a learning opportunity.

  • If you are “not on time to change the course of events“, you can record what you learned throughout the journey in a “Project Lessons Log“. This will represent a reminder for you and your colleagues of what could have been done better and, if there is an aspect of the project that, even a tiny bit, worked (I am sure there is…), it can also be explored in future projects.
  • If you are “on time to change the course of events“, Agile can come in your support, and through course-correction, you can take the measurements, draw a line and restart with a new experiment. With the experience you have gained, this time, you can re-tailor the method used, based on your findings, or choose a completely new one.

4. Avoid a “mechanistic approach

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Your brain is the most powerful source of intuition.

Rules, principles, and best practices should be taken into account, but you can’t follow any method blindly or mechanically, otherwise, every single aspect of the project becomes over bureaucratic and tedious.

Use your creativity to stitch together a tailored approach that will lead to successful outcomes.

5. Avoid a “heroic approach

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Let’s be honest, the times where Lancelot was fighting windmills are definitely over. We don’t need to be heroes, we just need to be realistic and down to earth.

Thinking that processes, rules, guidelines, and principles are all superficial and proceeding full steam ahead only trusting your instincts will bring you nowhere!

Instincts are essential to survive in this uncertain world and can support your assumptions most of the time, but they need to have some analytical rigor and governance behind.

Tailoring a work practice requires precision from one hand and some flexibility on the other. It’s not rocket science, but collecting evidence, understand the project’s environment, and having some guidance can help drawing the path you want for your project, without incurring in unpleasant surprises.

Now that we have enlisted all the points to keep in mind when tailoring a project, it’s your turn to test few things out with an adaptable mindset, and learn how to customise a work methodology based on the project you have in front of you.

After all, a good project manager should be like a “dress-maker“, a “couturier“, he/she should select, design, measure, cut the “garments” to make a beautiful dress, ops… project!

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