Tailoring is a fairly simple concept in theory.
In reality, it can be difficult to properly — and consistently — apply to your projects.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about tailoring in project management, including a definition of tailoring, what you should tailor within your projects, and some methods you can use to tailor successfully. Let’s dive in!
Tailoring in Project Management: Definition and Examples
There are a couple of different dictionary definitions of tailoring, but despite the image at the top of this article, we’re clearly not referencing custom-fitted clothing that’s crafted or altered by a skilled tailor.
Believe it or not, though, the project management definition of tailoring follows a similar concept.
When we talk about tailoring in projects, we’re talking about “adapting something to suit a particular purpose.”
So, not entirely dissimilar to what a clothing tailor might do — taking your measurements and altering a garment to suit your particular needs.
Project managers need to do something similar on nearly every project.
Though we aren’t exactly talking about bespoke clothing.
Let’s get into what you should be tailoring in project management.
What Should You Tailor Within Your Projects?
The short answer is: pretty much everything should be up for consideration when it comes to tailoring.
This might include:
- Project Methodology and Life Cycle
- Project Management Software
- Other Project Tools, digital or otherwise
- Your approach to managing individuals
- The communication channels you prioritize
- The structure and content of your meetings
- And, well, pretty much everything
The point here is that you should avoid falling into the rut of rinsing and repeating every aspect of every project you manage.
Different projects typically require unique outcomes.
Different individuals sometimes prefer different management styles.
Different teams might develop and produce at variable rates.
New stakeholders might not engage via the same communication methods as previous ones.
And on the list goes.
But you get the point.
Make sure the processes you put in place aren’t simply there because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
As a project manager, your primary goal is to establish the framework, environment, and leadership to give your project the best possible chance for success.
That starts with making sure your approach on every project is ideal for that project.
Why You Need to Know About Tailoring
So far we’ve identified what tailoring is in project management, and we’ve examined some different areas of a project that might be good candidates for tailoring.
But why do you need to know all this to be a successful project manager?
Two primary reasons:
1. Tailoring will provide you with the best chance for consistent success on your projects.
When you make mindful choices about the project lifecycle, your management style, and the software and tools you use for each individual project, you vastly increase the project’s potential for success.
Among the reasons for this is, you are ensuring that your approach — and that of the entire project team — is the one that’s best suited for meeting the project goals.
Being deliberate in this way will also reduce risk in many areas of the project.
2. Tailoring is a topic that will almost certainly show up on the PMP Exam.
That’s right, if you intend to get your Project Management Professional certification from PMI, you’ll definitely stumble across tailoring concepts during your studies, and you’ll likely see a question or two about it on the actual exam.
So make sure you’re familiar with the concept, both in study and in practice.
Ways to Apply Tailoring in Project Management
As we noted above, there are many different areas of a project you should consider tailoring.
Let’s take a look at one example from the always-important realm of communication in project management.
Communication is an excellent area to consider tailoring, because it involves so many different concepts and it is, as we often note throughout this site, extremely important to project success.
Let’s say that, as a project manager, you have a habit of sending an email to your primary stakeholders every Monday morning.
You like to set the tone for the week with a brief progress update and a note about what’s coming up next for the project team.
It’s a great way to keep stakeholders in the loop, and on your previous projects, they’ve all appreciate that weekly message.
However, on your current project, you did a bit of stakeholder analysis while planning, and you learned that the customer does not like email at all.
She finds it cumbersome and distracting, and she prefers more direct forms of communication.
What do you do?
Perhaps you set a 15-minute call with the customer once a week to provide updates over the phone or video chat. Or maybe you do a quick in-person meeting on a schedule that works for the customer so you can communicate regular updates and ask questions as needed.
The point is, you’re not going to continue your practice of sending out a weekly email to a customer who has told you she does not like using email.
You’re going to adjust to something that works best for her.
You’re going to tailor your communication channels.
Tips for Effective Tailoring
We’ve looked at some areas you might consider tailoring on your projects, as well as a real-world example of tailoring in project management.
Now let’s detail some tips for tailoring.
Define the Goals and Objectives of the Project Before Tailoring
Making sure you understand the project requirements will help to ensure that your tailoring efforts are focused on meeting the specific needs of the project.
We don’t want to change our approach and go-to tools just for the sake of change; we want to make deliberate customizations to ensure project success, and that’s pretty difficult to do before you really understand the project goals.
Involve Stakeholders in the Tailoring Process
Stakeholders are anyone with a stake in your project and its outcome, so it can absolutely be beneficial to involve some, or all, of them in tailoring decisions.
From your project team members to the customer, doing this will help to ensure that the tailored project meets their needs and expectations.
Use a Structured Approach to Tailoring
I find that it helps to keep a short list of the various aspects of a project that I need to consider tailoring each time.
Being structured and organized about tailoring will help ensure that you don’t miss anything, and that your efforts are efficient and effective.
Document the Tailoring Decisions
This goes hand-in-hand with the item above about taking a structured approach: Make sure your project documentation includes notes about what, exactly, you’ve tailored.
Having this detail will serve multiple purposes, ensuring that you can examine the effects of your tailoring during a project post-mortem or lessons learned meeting, and providing reference for similar approaches you might consider on future projects.
Conclusion: Tailoring is Essential in Project Management
Whether we’re talking about project life cycle, processes, environment, organizational approach, software and tools, or communication style, it’s absolutely essential to apply tailoring to your projects.
Perhaps the worst thing you can do as a project manager is become stuck in a specific approach and then just continue repeating it regardless of the project’s requirements.
The more complex your projects, the more important tailoring becomes.
This doesn’t mean that you should never repeat any of the areas we’ve discussed in this article!
By all means, bring your templates and go-to methods to the table, and put them to good use whenever they are a good fit for a project.
Just make sure you take the time to confirm they are, indeed, a good fit.
If you do that consistently and effectively, you will have mastered tailoring.