“Of course, we’re going to follow best practices,” our Project Manager (PM) said, for the fourth time in an hour at our weekly team meeting. Upon hearing this, I looked across the table at my colleague and watched as she rolled her eyes. She wasn’t trying to be disrespectful to our PM, but it wasn’t the first time he’d gone on about “best practices” without ever defining them. In fact, we had a running joke about how many times he’d use the term in a meeting without ever actually telling us what these best practices were or how to implement them.
In essence, our PM was using the term “best practice” as a buzzword, and nothing more. He never clearly defined what he meant in the context of our project or duties. The truth is that best practices are important, and sharing them amongst all relevant project team members is critical for a project’s success. In this case, the ambiguity of using the term but not defining it was bad news for us.
What are best practices? And why do we need to share them?
While there is no universally accepted definition of a best practice, we do know that a said procedure needs to demonstrate evidence of success, have an effect on something important (i.e., contributing to the project’s goals), and have the potential to be replicated or adapted to other settings. Best practices are typically activities or processes that bring meaningful results and/or yield success. They are often seen as innovative in comparison to what’s been done in the past.
Sharing best practices is important for the health of a project. The primary objective in sharing best practices is to identify the best way of doing something, and then, to share that knowledge with others working on the project. The result hopefully streamlines the process and put everyone on the same page of doing things in the best way possible. When everyone can implement a best practice into their work, they meet their goals and accomplish the mission of the project.
Sounds easy, right? Not always. Sometimes, we might encounter “knowledge hoarders.” By that I mean, folks who have the knowledge of best practices, but either don’t think to share it or simply don’t know how to share it with everyone, making it difficult for others to access the information. On the other hand, there’s the problem of constant sharing for some (i.e., random sharing with no method in place for documenting or formally distributing pertinent information among colleagues). The latter can result in information overload or overwhelm those hearing the suggestions offered. At the very least, it’s disorganized. If you are a Project Manager who is experiencing challenges around documenting and sharing best practices, following these five tips can make it a little easier.
Five Ways to Document and Share Best Practices
1. Document Lessons Learned and Process/Procedure Documents
We’re all busy. And sometimes, the idea of writing yet another thing down or being responsible for yet another document feels daunting. I encourage you to make it a priority! Not only is it not (too) hard to document best practices at work, but it’s so important for your project to be successful.
Each of your team members has a specific way in which they get things done. Over time, they’ve perfected a methodology, and they know the most efficient way to get the best results. These procedures become best practices, and having your team members put their methods in writing preserves their efficient and effective work flows for others to use in similar situations. Documentation of such becomes a valuable asset for your organization and may even be used as an onboarding and/or training tool in the future.
Not only does documenting best practices call attention to a job well done and identify the expertise that exists within your project team, but it shows respect for your employees. You recognize that they are excellent at what they do, and you’re asking them to document it, so others can implement their practices. When someone is recognized for their best practice – and work – it builds morale.
Pro-tip: If you’re a PM asking your team members to write down what they do, have someone who is new to the job follow their written directions. Sometimes when a job duty or process becomes like second nature to someone, they may unintentionally omit steps in a written document because they’re so familiar with the process.
2. Use the right knowledge-sharing software
Though every project is different, in my experience Microsoft Office 365 has been the best software to use for knowledge sharing, as it makes sharing best practices within an organization/project relatively straightforward and easy.
SharePoint is a collaboration and content management platform often used as a medium for sharing of information within organizations or projects. Highly adaptable and relatively simple to use, SharePoint supports the creation, editing, and sharing of information. When I’m working on projects, it is often a go-to for content management because it allows team members to contribute their portion of a document to a centralized base. This makes it easy to know where to share, update, discover, and document what’s important.
Whether you use SharePoint or another tool, the right knowledge-sharing software can help you easily and quickly search for the documents you need, ask your colleagues questions, and store the documents you’ve put together. This encourages everyone – from Administrative Assistants to Project Leads – to contribute ideas and document best practices that everyone can access.
3. Create a strategic plan to share best practices
Before you roll your eyes, let me say that I know how time-consuming it is to even so much as think about developing another strategic plan. This suggestion is one of the more demanding on the list because it requires you to work with your leads and stakeholders to establish strategic, organization-wide knowledge transfer plans. That said, the value in developing a strategic plan for sharing your best practices is worth the investment.
A strategic plan for best practices can help you mitigate risks, which will help you meet critical project objectives, even if a team member has moved on to a different role elsewhere. Tactics to consider adding to your plan include documentation of “how to” steps, lunch and learn sessions for staff, 1:1 meetings for knowledge sharing, and putting together a thorough, detailed process and procedure handbook.
4. Do a Review
Most major projects often have some kind of post-implementation review, but a thorough review doesn’t have to wait for the end of your project. Consider taking a step back after each major milestone is reached to discuss and document lessons learned. Ask what worked, what could’ve gone better, what you would do differently if you had the opportunity, and what new ideas everyone on the project has for moving forward.
Depending on your role, this can be accomplished with 1:1 meetings or in a brainstorming session with key project team members. Asking what lessons were learned typically captures a wealth of knowledge. Knowledge that you (and/or future employees) can use when moving forward in the project or undertaking a project similar in scope.
Another bonus of doing a review is that it’s helpful in bridging the silo problem that so many projects encounter. If you involve everyone on the project from all disciplines (i.e., IT, quality control, support, etc…) and together discuss the project, you are closing the silos and coming together as a team with one goal in mind: the betterment of your project.
5. Be Adaptive
It’s important to recognize that even best practices may need to be modified after a period of time. Things change. New, better ways of doing things pop up. Don’t get so attached to your existing best practices that you ignore or disregard any new ones that may improve things. Allow things to stay fresh and relevant.
If a project team member comes to you with a new idea for documentation, hear them out. If an Administrative Assistant finds a way to streamline a process, but it’s not the way you’d do it, consider their advice. It’s important to remain nimble throughout the life of your project in order to respond to any issues and needs that pop up. This includes the ways in which you share best practices.
Use these tips as a starting point, and your project will be on the way to maximizing the impact of each team member’s contributions and capitalizing on their particular area of expertise. You’ll help yourselves in the future, and chances are, you’ll be able to implement what you’ve learned in your next project as PM, too.
Do you have any tips for sharing best practices among colleagues? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!