Project Templates

Project Templates vs. Re-inventing the Wheel

Project templates can be a big time saver as long as they fit your project and your organization. The best way to secure templates that you can use on all of your projects is for you and perhaps a couple of other project managers to develop them yourselves.  It really doesn’t take a great deal of time and often project managers can pool and compare the formats and templates they use for the project scope, charter, stakeholder identification and so on.  Designing a common template obviously requires a little bit of compromise but it will save time for the project managers and the sponsors and stakeholders who will use these documents.  However, you should avoid at all costs the Excel template called “Factories” that sells hundreds of templates that supposedly “fit all projects.” They do not.

Project Managers are creative people and that’s a good thing. Without creativity, we would not be able to structure a project or react quickly to project templatesunforeseen challenges. However, it is also human nature to try to customize and alter things until they totally look the way we want them to or at least bear our undeniable mark. Unfortunately, this practice is not efficient and it might actually hinder your project success.  That’s why you reaching consensus on project templates with your PM colleagues is the best course.

Project Templates Save Time

We all hate those forms that we have to fill out to get a project approved and we don’t like the client’s format for project status reports. After all, we are experienced project managers. So why can’t the client use our artfully created project templates for the scope, charter, WBS, and status presentation? Of course we develop a new form for each project. If you work in an organization that always develops everything from scratch, please take a minute to read through the list below of the benefits of standardization. On the other hand, if you work in an organization with lots of standardization, these points might help you appreciate all the forms you have available. Obviously, over-standardization is an issue. But for the most part, having a standardized way of organizing, managing, and documenting projects has at least the following benefits:

Shorter Start-Up Time

If everyone uses the same project templates, everyone knows what to expect. Let’s call it the McDonalds Principle: No matter where in the world you buy a cheeseburger from McDonalds, its always the same: Two buns, one hamburger patty, a slice of cheese, a slice of pickle, mustard and ketchup. Customers know exactly what they’ll get when they order a McDonalds cheeseburger.

The same holds true for standardized forms and processes. Everyone knows what is expected and things can be compared, matched, and so on. All the decision makers in the organization know where to find the information they are looking for so they can make a decision more easily. Moreover, if you need to train a new PM, it is easier to show him/her a set of similar-looking project charters and plans than it is to analyze a set of completely different-looking documents. Last but not least, using tools that already exist and that have been tested by previous PMs will make it easier for you to start the actual project work. You need not wast time designing something that already exists.

Easier Lessons Learned 

Each project or project phase should end with a lessons learned session. Standardized requirements documentation, status reports, and plans make it easier to point out flaws and actually learn from our mistakes.

Easier Estimation Next Time

If all the projects in an organization use the same standards, it will be easier for PMs to use historical analysis for their next project’s estimations because they can accurately compare the current project with a previous one. The point I’m making here is this: Standardization has its place. Obviously, there is an extreme to that, but I hope you get my point. When starting with a new client, why don’t you ask your client if they have a standard for PM documentation?

Until next time.

Author: Dick Billows, PMP

Dick has more than 25 years of project and program management experience throughout the US and overseas. Dick was a partner in the 4th largest professional firm and a VP in a Fortune 200 company. He trained and developed 100's of project managers using his methodology. Dick is the author of 14 books, over 300 articles and director/producer of 90 short project management training videos. He and a team of 25 project managers work with client companies & students across the US and in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East. They have assisted over 300 organizations in improving their project performance. Books by Dick Billows, PMP are on