Almost all project management resources on the Web provide “project management templates” to download.
I get it.
People are looking for a shortcut or inspiration.
Why would you invent the wheel if there are templates out there?
Well, I think you are shooting in your own foot with such an approach.
Here is why:
The best templates should fit all the projects.
But projects are unique. Companies are different.
So, they suggest you to “adapt” the template to your needs. It means to remove everything you don’t understand.
Here is the thing.
Can you add something of value to a template?
Otherwise, you would have created a valuable and applicable document from the start.
Filling the Blanks
You did the hard work. You adapted the downloaded template from the internet.
Now you can use it. Just fill in the blanks.
Why do you need an index for each entry? Do you use it anywhere else?
Why do you need to specify a location of a stakeholder? They all sit around you.
Soon, you will notice that even after removing unnecessary fields and columns, much information doesn’t make sense.
Next time, you come up to your boss and show her this template filled in.
She says, “Wow, what is that? Why didn’t you use our standard (read useless, outdated) template?”
“Do we have one?!”
OK, even if your company doesn’t have this exact document.
There are, for sure, other documents that they use.
The problems start here:
Risk Register is a spreadsheet.
You got the Qualitative Risk Analysis template in the Word format.
Your shiny progress report looks pretty in Word, but your customers are Mac users. They want the report in a rich text in an email.
You will waste a lot of time aligning the information from different templates.
You found a good template. You adapted it. You made it compatible with policies, processes, and other tools.
You even prepared a presentation for your team. You want them to use it as well.
But your team members have a lot of “why” questions.
That guy over there already designed a practical way to do the same thing.
There will be lots of resistance. And it all ends up with only you interested in the template.
How to Create a Reusable Project Management Template?
I say any new tool, process, or template is a small project on its own.
There are stakeholders. They have requirements. There are your goals.
1. Start With WHY
Why do you need this template or document? What benefits do you want to get? Whose life will you make easier? Or more difficult?
Quite often, a lot of asset ends up in the bin of “For the sake of project management.”
You invent things to make your own life easier. Or you introduce things just because you want to try it out.
Quite often, there is no benefit at all.
Benefits and value are the first filters.
2. What Are the Inputs
Think for a moment. What does it take to collect the required information to fill in the template?
Do you need to extract data from another tool? If yes, is there an easy way to export it in a formatted way? So that you can copy and paste it into the template.
Or do you need to copy it line by line?
Your team might already be using some sort of template. Ask them as well. Especially if it is something that you won’t be filling in.
3. Does it Work with Other Documents, Artefacts, and Stakeholders?
If there are stakeholders beyond your project team who will use the template, you need to get their buy-in.
Will they be working on your document? Do they need to send it to superiors? Do they understand it in the first place?
Also, most of the documents in project management are the input to further processes in the life cycle.
Is the information in the document compatible with other documents?
This is often the case with estimates.
You may assess the work in man-hours. The costs are calculated using man-days. While you report to the client in Story Points.
4. Develop the Template Iteratively
Keep in mind this:
Your template should not be perfect on the first try.
I say create a minimum viable version and start using it.
A template with little fields to fill in is much easier to sell to the team.
You can always add more in the process.
Your primary goal is to see how much effort it takes to maintain a document. If it requires an hour from each team member every day – it a waste of time.
If you can’t efficiently use the data in the document as an input to other activities – it is a waste of time.
5. Keep the End Goal in Mind
If you have a lot of documentation on a project, your templates will depend on one another. So, you may take one at the beginning and develop other templates similar to the first one.
In the end, you become a hostage of your initial decision. The cost of a change will be enormous.
At the end of the day, these templates should save you time. Not vice versa.
You can download and put a template to good use. However, this way, you deprive yourself of significant experience. It is pure project integration management.
Moreover, template creation is a great team-building activity. You give ownership of project management to the team.
If they provide valuable input, it will motivate them.
If their ideas don’t work that well, you can get a chance to prove your value. You can suggest a better solution.