Hello my friend,

In this article I’d like to discuss such interesting topic as usage of templates. Though the answer seems to be obvious there are a lot of points that must be taken into consideration, especially if you aren’t very experienced in project management. I know it, because I were doing mistakes such mistakes at the beginning of my career. What mistakes?

To answer this question we need to make clear what template is.

What is template?

Basically by template we mean somehow predefined documents (presentations, tables, logs and so on). Predefined means that they were previously either created and standardized by PMO (project management office) in your company or just were created and used at the previous projects by their project team. In my opinion there is a significant difference between them for two reasons:

  • The first reason is that documents created by project teams were made to solve specific task and, what is more important, they solved this task. Documents created by PMO are usually kind of aggregation and therefore they might lose valuable details.
  • The second reason is that documents from other projects are usually filled in and might be used as additional insights (i.E. Risk Register) for your project. Personally I like to review such documents, because it’s useful for further education to see how other project managers work and what they take into consideration.

Whatever template you have, it isn’t necessary for successful project.

My experience

Now I want to show you some examples, where the templates were useful for me, and where not. At the beginning of my career in project management I was asked by project sponsor (who was also head of my division in company) to create a project charter for a project. At that moment I had no education in project management, but I had a couple of nice presentations from other projects in our company and I just took one of presentation with project charter and adopted it to my project. Much later, after that project, I realized that presentation is just a small part of project charter itself, so I probably did only 10% of the overall project preparation. Another my mistake was that I just took that one presentation without any supporting files, like stakeholder register. I has idea that I somehow must ask other departments, who were also engaged in that project, but I had no understanding how to do it correctly. So I was just walking across the headquarters and chatting with people trying to figure out, whom I should address my questions and concerns.  I’m very glad to have such experience, because it shows me, what problems may arise without proper skills and knowledges. Though for many people (for me as well) project management seems to be very straightforward and intuitive process, it doesn’t mean that you can manage every project without necessary preparations. If I’d read something project management study guides before jumping into creation of project charter, I wouldn’t do too many mistakes and wouldn’t lose too much time.

Another experience is more positive. Upon preparation to the one of the biggest project I’ve ever taken part so far, I was responsible for creating of high level design of the technical solution with addressing it to the customer business needs. I knew that we our company previously had done a lot of projects in technical sphere so we had a lot of similar documents from those projects. As I had understanding, how these high level requirements should looked like, and had this example in my head, I was looking for certain information that I could reuse to save the time. Based on several other documents I created my own, which was quickly accepted by customer.

What is the difference between these two templates?

In reality there is no single difference between both templates that I’ve used. Both of them were made previously for certain tasks and they successfully solved those tasks. The real difference is in my approach of using these templates.

The first example describes the way how inexperienced employees rely solely on templates without understanding of the overall picture and tasks. Unfortunately at that time I didn’t have colleagues, who could mentor me in project management. So I collected experience just by making mistakes. To be honest, it’s very effective way of learning, though the costs of mistakes can be very high for the company.

In the second example I had clear understanding what I had to do. So I just looked for different components that could shorten time that I needed to accomplish the task at desirable level. In that case the templates were very useful for me

Lessons learned

Very good example of templates are contained in PMBOK and different additions to it, like Book of Forms. Another source of such templates are various project management courses. At least the course that I attended provide various templates, including template of the project management plan, what can be quite useful, if you understand how to use it.

Conclusion

The key message that I want to tell is that templates aren’t good or bad. It fully depends on your understanding of the task and desired outcomes. On the other hand, during learning it makes sense to use templates only as example of how the result could look like and that’s it. It’s much better to try to reinvent the ready templates. First of all, you will better understand, what, why and how should be reflected in this certain document (i.E. Project Charter or Work Breakdown Structure). And who know, probably you will find better way to do things than your colleagues before. Don’t be afraid of experiments. Take care and good bye!

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BR,

Anton Karneliuk