During this early building phase, it was difficult for Bachana to find time to distill the abundant pages of documentation for the Project Engagement Methodology and Process Manual into the most pertinent concepts. Paraphrasing mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, Bachana explained, “The present manual is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.”
In the case of process documentation, bigger is definitely not better. Bachana intuited that the manual had to be condensed if it was to be a useful reference. “You can have 5,000 pages of information, but for it to be helpful to our staff, the manual needed to be no more than 50 pages, well indexed, and easily updated over time to meet the changing needs of our customers,” he said.
Over the past five years, various employees at DPCI have contributed to the engagement process manual. Starting in 2005, Vice President Tracy Gardner coordinated these efforts and worked with current staff members to shape the manual into its current form, which is 40 pages of process documentation followed by standard project templates and checklist documents.
Thousands of hours of work have been put into the document, but employees at DPCI say the finished product is an invaluable resource well worth the time and effort. Gardner feels the manual is absolutely essential to success. “The way the company runs makes all the difference,” she said. “We need great processes and rules to help us ensure great outcomes for our customers.”
According to Gardner, these processes and rules are useful because they were written by people who understand DPCI. “A generic project process manual wouldn’t reflect our company,” she said. “We know what processes work well and should be incorporated into the manual and which ones do not apply to us or our customers’ needs.”
The manual distills every step of the DPCI project management lifecycle, from initial sale to final closeout, and helps DPCI on numerous levels. “It contains all the tools and resources necessary to wage a successful project,” Gardner said. “It includes important checklists and templates that help staff stay consistent and thorough from project to project.”
Gardner said the current manual has eliminated a lot of confusion and mistakes. In the past, employees often ran into problems because they did not know exactly what was expected of them. “We would ask, ‘Why didn’t you do this?’” she said. “And they would answer, ‘Well, I didn’t know I was supposed to.’” Now, employees can reference clearly defined descriptions and checklists that explain their roles for each step along the way.
For new employees, the manual is an invaluable resource. Newcomers used to rely on various staff members offering rules, suggestions, and advice—and they often learned the hard way, by making mistakes that cost time and money. Now, the manual serves as an easy-to-reference resource that helps employees become integrated in project processes much more rapidly than in the past.
“The manual gives you a better sense of how DPCI works than being told to figure it out yourself or to keep interrupting a colleague who’s in the know,” said Ivan Mironchuk, Technical Service Manager. “It ensures everyone is on board following the same playbook and that everything is going smoothly.”
Because the guide is well-organized, accessible and succinct, veteran employees continue to use it as a reference well after their first days at DPCI. They regularly use the guide’s checklists and templates to make their jobs easier and their work more productive.
The document also facilitates interaction with customers. “It’s vital for us to communicate the project processes upfront to our customers so they understand how we’re going to carry out our work,” Gardner said. The information in the manual clearly delineates every step of a project, allowing employees to keep customers informed. The manual also serves a greater purpose for customers, Bachana believes. “Over time customers often adopt the processes included in our engagement manual that work for them,” states Bachana.
The guide serves as an organic document that both shapes and is shaped by DPCI’s work. In the past, employees found they were not learning from their mistakes or their successes. Gardner said staff would regularly discuss things that had gone wrong with projects and things that had gone well, but after talking about these lessons they would forget them as they moved on to new projects.
Employees are now able to institutionalize these new lessons learned. During weekly After Action meetings, staff members discuss successes, failures and experiences from the week before. From this, they determine what should be incorporated into the project engagement manual.
Though the manual serves many purposes, its overarching goal is to improve DPCI’s efficiency and success by defining its processes and rules. “The Engagement Manual has really tightened up projects and processes at DPCI,” Gardner said. “It gives employees a methodology for their work.”
When company president Joseph Bachana founded Database Publishing Consultants, Inc. (DPCI) in 1999, he immediately began documenting company processes. “I had the feeling from the start,” he said, “that if the company was to be successful, it wasn’t enough to retain the best people and implement the best tools and technology. Fundamentally, we need a standardized, repeatable, measurable process that all employees could use to work together for best results.”