Feb 222012

I read a blog that claimed use of templates is mandatory to ensure success of a project. It even went to say that a project is not  complete unless the project management documentation is done. I believe it is a gross misstatement. Here are my thoughts on this.

Templates are tools that can be very helpful in bringing a project to success but like any other tool there are so many ifs-and-buts involved. A saw for cutting wood is a great tool but if you have tried your hands on one you probably had the same experience as me. The first time i tried, it was a complete disaster; I could not make it move in the groove. Having the tool was one thing, knowing when to use another and yet having experience using it efficiently was what would make it a great tool. Templates as a tool for project management have the same factors involved to make these a great tool.

Mature project management methodologies usually provide a very comprehensive list of templates for various processes and project types. Yet I have seen again and again that the project manager feel they are overburdened by these templates and hold this strong opinion that filling out templates is a hindrance to their project’s success. I had this discussion with many project managers as to why certain templates need to be filled out. I had asked the project managers to convince me that filling out a template does not add value to the project or the organization and i will agree with them that there is no need to do documentation.

The question that, I think, addresses these arguments is: What are the things that make project management templates a valuable tool?

I believe there are three factors, if present, will make templates a very valuable tool. These are:

  1. Knowing the Template: Comprehensive understanding and knowledge of various sections and topics of the template will ensure that project manager can provide the relevant information succinctly and effectively
  2. Knowing the Culture of the Organization: Culture of the organization derives what is easily acceptable as norm and what will be considered an anomaly. Having a hand on the organization’s pulse, a project manager would know when to stress on which section of the template, how much detail should be provided, how to go through review and approval through the organizational hierarchy
  3. Knowing how to use the template to best achieve the objectives: If an objective can be achieved with a one page memo or even email why fill out template (when there is no legal obligation to do so). Tailoring a template to use only the sections relevant to meet objectives reduces burden and improves effectiveness.

In short, templates are only enablers to achieve project objectives, definitely are not required in most cases but experience has shown that they greatly improve the chances of meeting the objectives.