The role of standards for collaboration in project teams

Standards have always played a major role in the handling of projects. They are based on the paradigm that a complex problem can be broken down into its components and systematically planned and controlled by means of a project. As early as the 1950s, the US Air Force and Navy issued detailed standards on the basis of which projects had to be implemented. At that time, this was especially necessary because the planning and implementation of projects was done by different people and therefore a detailed specification seemed important for success.

In today’s project world, independent and self-organized work is increasingly coming to the fore. The specification of detailed plans and work instructions makes less and less sense. They are obsolete as soon as the project is started. The separation of planning and work is also no longer applicable; both are intertwined and are handled by the team members themselves. For the coordination in the project team it is now even more important to find a common basis for communication and cooperation. And this is exactly where standards play a role again.

First of all, a newly assembled project team needs to understand each other better. In other words, to speak the same language. If the team members come from different departments, companies or cultures, it is very likely that they use similar words, but often give them a different meaning. In this respect, a standardization of terms, “the project language”, plays an essential role. We recommend developing a “Glossary” of important terms. This helps to prevent misunderstandings and to better meet mutual expectations.

Agreeing on common standards for the processes, methods and related roles used helps to synchronize activities more quickly. When comparing the processes, methods and roles that are otherwise common for the participants, different requirements or expectations quickly come to light. These have to be placed next to each other on an equal footing and it has to be checked which ones fit the specific project situation. From this, a project-specific design is then derived, which is often codified in a “project manual” and, if necessary, changed throughout the project, depending on the requirements in each project phase.

Since modern information and communication tools play a major role in projects, standards in this area are of course also of great importance. For example, the evaluation of large amounts of data in the context of Big Data or Artificial Intelligence requires consistency in data storage and processing. Since those involved in projects are typically used to different IT systems, standardization within the project is certainly necessary.

Finally, standards are also helpful at the level of cooperation between the people in the project. This starts with a vision for the project that is shared by all, which gives orientation to all participants. This applies to projects that are carried out within a company as well as projects that are set up across companies. Shared values or principles of cooperation and a culture that is conducive to project execution are also helpful for cooperation. This will not be possible through a set of guidelines, but rather through intensive discussion and agreement between the parties.

This makes it clear that there can be no “one size fits all”, i.e. no standards that fit all applications. The point is to think intensively before a project or right at the beginning about which standards are necessary for the handling of a specific project. Once the contents of the standard for a project have been agreed upon, the project team can work out its own project-specific standard (possibly on the basis of standards for similar project situations), which will guide the collaboration. This standard should provide the framework, not detailed instructions. It should be developed by the project team itself (as a kind of “constitution” of the project). A standard can certainly be adapted from time to time during the course of the project, because the environment is also subject to change…

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Author: Reinhard Wagner, CEO of Tiba Managementberatung



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