There are two schools of thought on using templates to manage projects. Some people love them and find them to be useful tools and others think they are useless crutches that have no place on a project. Here are some pros and cons worth considering before you use a template for your next project.
Project managers have so much to do in every stage of a project that reinventing the wheel each and every time can be a recipe for burnout. Not to mention a really good way to eat up project funding that could be better used for other tasks.
But mention templates to some PMs and the ensuing discussion can turn into a firestorm with comments like, “My projects aren’t cookie cutter,” or “I don’t reuse other people’s ideas,” or “I work best when I start from scratch.”
On the other hand, plenty of PMs think they’re a good idea and wouldn’t dream of doing a project without a set of templates that can get them started.
Let’s face it. Project management is a structured process to get something done. In itself, it’s a template of sorts if you embrace the dictionary’s definition of a template – “anything that determines or serves as a pattern; a model.”
So let’s dig a little deeper into some of the pros and cons of using templates in your project management.
Shorten time to delivery – Using a template framework for standard reports or documents can reduce the time it takes to get it done. If you’ve ever experienced “blank screen block,” you can relate to this one. Sometimes the end result will only remotely resemble the base template, but trying to get started by staring at a blank screen can often take precious time you just don’t have.
Help set expectations – When your documents are based on a template, the audience will get used to what will be included and how to find the information they need. That helps save them time too – they don’t have to relearn your document structure every time they get something new from you.
Capture best practices – When something works, you want to embrace it as a best practice and repeat it time and again. A template that captures the “best of the best” can help you do just that. It can also include any standards or required information that has been developed within your company which must be included.
Use as a training tool – For newbies to the project management role, templates can help decrease the learning curve so they can be up and running productively and pay attention to actually getting the project from start to finish.
Wastes time – Some tasks just weren’t meant for templates. If using a template adds time to the task because you are doing so much modifying and deleting while trying to shoehorn your project into the defined format, then you need to let it go and start from scratch.
Cause information blindness – Using the same format or template over and over can cause recipients of the report or document to miss important items that may be included. The brain is a tricky thing. If it thinks it’s seen something before, it will ignore it. That could doom a project.
Cause repeatable errors – Documents that are reused without continuous improvement considerations can cause errors to be repeated from project to project. It doesn't make sense to use templates that will perpetuate poor outcomes.
Stagnate independent thinking – Some people who use templates think it means they can’t think outside the document rather than it being a starting point. If there is no thinking "outside the template" so to speak, it can definitely hinder the project.
Which camp are you in? Templates – love ‘em or hate ‘em? Weigh in below.