How to use (the) Best Practices

In any company there are best practices on many topics. This article offers guidelines on how to use best practices. Those guidelines don't only apply for project management but for any best practice.

photo of Valentine Vierne
Valentine Vierne

Senior Program Manager

Posted on Feb 21, 2021

The Global PMO team provides Zalando with a set of documented Best Practices. Those best practices offer templates, tips and tricks, and summarise theoretical knowledge around different project management areas, such as decision making or stakeholder management.

The Best Practices have been created to help project and program managers improve their ways of leading projects and refresh their knowledge about project management practices. Such best practices probably also exist in your company.


As with any best practice, some people are already applying them but some others struggle with understanding how to use them. Feedback around the difficulty to use these documents mentions their lengths or their focus on complex projects. And sometimes, people also ask for best practices around topics that are already addressed in existing best practices.

This post gives some guidelines on how to use best practices, whatever topic they cover.

Have you read the Best Practice(s)?

Have you REALLY read it (not scanned it)?

When you open a document which is more than 3 pages long, do you feel overwhelmed (or at least bored) before even starting reading it? What the authors put in such documents is both meaningful and useful (even if just for you to reflect on how to challenge it). So take the time to read them, from top to bottom, at least once.

The writers spent some time preparing these documents. They reflected on what has to be in place to, for example, lead a project in the best possible way. They searched for what would make your life easier. And they know (from their experience and the majority of feedback they received) that these best practices can usually help you.

Best practices mean "adapt them to your needs"

  • Adapt to your needs and your project

Documented best practices, at least at Zalando, are focusing on the most complex projects. Experience has shown that it is easier to be prepared for any possible scenario than to extrapolate from a short checklist.

But, by no means, best practices should be applied from start to end if your project doesn't require it. Best practices are meant to make your life easier, not your project more complex than it needs to be. Therefore don't just apply everything written in such best practices to all your projects. You have to pick wisely, and eventually adapt part of the content.

  • Prioritise the best practices

You don't need to (re)read and apply all the best practices from the start of your project. Before starting your project (or when you get onboarded), look at the list of best practices available and choose which ones apply to the current state of your project and which ones can wait (e.g. a best practice about project handover).

  • Discuss with your project sponsor or lead and your project team how you will implement best practices in your project

All recommendations made in best practices are just this: recommendations (even if backed-up with theory and experience).

When starting or taking over a project, regardless of its simplicity or complexity, you should discuss which recommendations you should follow (e.g. does your project require a steering committee, what will be the format of your regular report), and most importantly which one you will ignore. Understanding why some recommendations might or might not apply to your project will help to align on the project, can foster team building and help engaging stakeholders.

This is true when you discuss with your project sponsor or your lead (whoever mandates you to run the project) about what they want to see as a report, which meetings they would like to attend, how often they want to discuss risks, etc.

Your project team probably has an opinion regarding the implementation of the recommendations too. What are the best practices that will support their daily work? What are the templates they can use? If they want to ignore some, what are the reasons? Having such a discussion with the project team is a way to align, both the project and the ways of working in the project.

It is not a one-time thing (it rarely is in project management)!

Even if you are an amazing project manager, you're strongly advised to regularly check best practices (if only to prove yourself right). You don't have to read all the best practices at once or to read an entire best practice but at least check some parts regularly to challenge the way you lead projects. When your project is ready to start (scope is defined, the project plan is set up), it might be a good time to read again a best practice about reporting. If your project requires a decision to be made, a best practice on decision paper can come handy.

Changes always happen in projects. This might affect the choices you made when applying best practices. A simple project can become a complex one requiring additional documentation or the creation of a steering committee. A best practice you had put on the side so far, can support the new set up.

As for anything you do when you lead a project, you have to reflect on your usage of best practices and adapt it if necessary (and share the results of your reflections, see the next paragraph).

Best practices mean "feedback and (help) make it better"

"No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory." [Stephen Hawking - A brief history of time]

This holds also true for any best practice. They are best practices until they are updated, improved, and a better best practice replaces them.

As you know if you have read a best practice (really read it), they usually aren't the work of a single person. Several experiences, different knowledge sources have been used to produce each of them. If you are not happy with one of them, if you have an idea on how to improve them, if you find another solution to solve the problem described, then act upon it and contact the authors to provide your input.

We all benefit from having a new/external pair of eyes and fresh brains to look upon documents that we prepared, how we run our projects, what solution exists for this typical problem. It is the responsibility of each and everyone to share learning and knowledge and help others to grow.

Your feedback will help improve those best practices and will support the entire project management community at your company.

So remember, provide feedback!

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