PM Earth

What is a Best Practice?

24 September 2007

What is a Best Practice?

The simplest definition of a Best Practice is "the best way to do something." When it comes to project, program, and portfolio management, the formal definition comes from the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model, OPM3®: A Best Practice is "an optimal way currently recognized by industry to achieve a stated goal or objective. For organizational online project management, this includes the ability to deliver projects successfully, consistently, and predictably to implement organizational strategies."

The notion of a practice is what makes a Best Practice consistent and predictable. Because practices are consistent and predictable, the PMO can rely on them to have the same effect every time they are used. Because of this reliability, a Best Practice can be a permanent solution to a problem. If applied every time, then a Best Practice will prevent or solve a problem every time, and will deliver the best possible result every time.

Best Practices are built of capabilities, and it takes multiple capabilities to ensure one Best Practice. For example, the capability of estimating in one particular way, alone, is not a Best Practice. But if a PMO has three different estimation techniques and decision rules that show when to use each one, then that may be a Best Practice.

The term "best" implies comparison, and that requires measurement. Only when it is possible to measure different practices and compare their benefits and their results can it be said that one is the Best Practice of all available practices. So a PMO can only begin to develop Best Practices when it has developed project management according to standards, developed capabilities, and developed definitions of benefits and ways of measuring them.

Then it is possible to compare one procedure against another, and determine which one is best.

What qualifies one practice as best, as most optimal? Optimization has two parts, effectiveness and efficiency. Effectiveness always comes first. The practice that shows the most desirable result most often and most consistently is the Best Practice. What if two practices are equally effective? Then, in comparing those two, the focus is on efficiency. Whichever practice achieves the desired result at lower cost, sooner, with fewer resources is better than the other, and is the Best Practice in that situation.

Being best is also situational. Many Best Practices of project management will work on any project, but not all. Some practices apply only to certain industries. What may be a Best Practice in one industry may be an acceptable practice in another, but not the best, optimal practice. As another example, a certain practice may be best, but very expensive, and therefore not appropriate to small projects. A practice is truly best in a particular situation. That makes decision rules that guide which practice to use under what circumstances essential for Best Practices in project management methodologies.


A highly capable PMO that is assessing and improving project management throughout the organization can begin to identify and encourage Best Practices.


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