Have you ever heard the expression, “the right tool for the right job”? In other words, it wouldn’t make sense to use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail. And it’s overkill to light a candle with a blowtorch.
I’m all for saving time and energy on my project. I like to use whatever templates already exist in the company for my Project Schedule, metrics reporting, training plan, etc. But sometimes they don’t quite fit the job.
In some instances, existing templates were built for a project much bigger than mine and would add an unnecessary level of detail or documentation. In other situations, the templates were brought over years ago from another type of project or methodology and don’t quite fit this new situation.
It is one of the realities of business these days.
So what can we do with a template that doesn’t work for us?
There are 3 options:
- Use the Template As Is. This is a good idea when your PMO and project methodology are strong but you’ve never used it or there’s no alternative in sight. If there’s no hammer but you need to get that nail in the wall, you use what’s available, but it may take extra effort and introduces a bit of risk.
- Create from Scratch. When the project methodology is just getting off the ground, sometimes the templates are very generic or simply don’t exist. It’s not tough to create a RACI or Risk Register, though it might take some time to build a Test Plan or Go Live Readiness Checklist. Building your own can be an easier option than scrambling to find someone in the company who has created this particular artifact in the past.
- Modify an Existing Template. Usually, templates exist but they are a bit overkill—they cover all types of projects and every option that could possibly be needed. No PMO wants to create 3 different templates because there are 3 different project types.
Using the template will save you some time if you know where to cut it down a bit… and perhaps rewrite a few sections for your needs.
I typically end up modifying an existing template. But most of the time I createa new document and cut and paste the information from the template in it.I don’t simply copy what’s there and start cutting out data/sections.
Why? Because in the background of any template, the author has typically added some calculations or rules that can drive you nuts. This is especially true with Excel, but it can be as simple as a formatting rule created in Word. Lots of PMs have their own shortcuts and some get really fancy. Even if I can figure out what they did to change it, I don’t want to take that time. I have my own shortcuts to use!
When deciding what to copy over into the new template I take these three criteria into account:
- What is the relative complexity of the project? Do I need to add detail / columns / sections to make my project more meaningful, or is the template overly complex for my straightforward project?
- Who will be editing or reading this template? If this is a formal document that will be reviewed and signed, you will need to make sure your template is more formal. If your project follows CSV (Computer System Validation), for example, there are certain rules you need to keep in mind.
- What decisions will be made using this data? The more complex or critical the decisions, the more strict you need to be about what goes into your document.
Finally, remember that as all projects are different, so are templates. As long as you handle them with consideration, adjusting your artifacts to your project’s needs will be more efficient in the long run.