Tanner James Blog

Avoiding death-by-template

John Howarth

“We have to fill out reams of templates and I don’t see the value in that” – this is one of the most common criticisms levelled at project management frameworks in general, and PRINCE2® in particular. So I would like to offer some thoughts as to why this perception is so common and how to avoid ‘death-by-template’ on your project.

The PMO made me do it

You are a Project Manager.  You went to the PMO. They said you have to fill in the templates. So you did. Shame on both parties, say I…

As the Project Manager, your job is to pull together a shared understanding of what the project is going to do and why – in other words, a plan and a business case. You need to do this by getting the right people - stakeholders, decision-makers and so on – together in such a way that they have a meeting of minds. Once you have done that you will need to record everything, and that is what the templates are for. But if you try to achieve this primarily by filling in templates you are going about it the wrong way.

If you work in a PMO, your job is to help the Project Manager do their job. There might be a compliance element to that and you may also have a need for gathering some corporate information about what a project will do. Nevertheless you should be focussed on ensuring that the Project Manager has the skills and support necessary to get the project off on the right footing. Pointing them at the templates is a cop-out. You should be asking what they think they need in order to get the right people together and be asking how you can help facilitate that.

The same then applies to the management of progress, change, risks and issues once the project is underway – for the project manager it is about keeping minds aligned and for the PMO it is about helping them do that. Templates are simply a tool of the trade.

Will the person in charge please step forward

So who is to blame if a project has too much paperwork? The Project Manager? The PMO? As it happens, neither is to blame in my opinion. The person who is to blame is the person who has the role of Project Sponsor (or Project Board Executive if you are using a PRINCE2®. That person is ultimately accountable for the project, and therefore they should be the one to determine how much paperwork is appropriate and how corporate templates should be used/tailored to suit.

“But they don’t have the time/understanding to determine those things!” I hear you cry. Well, have you asked them? If your answer is yes and you still drew a blank, perhaps you could get a peer-level executive with some project management credentials to have a quiet word with them.

Our framework is mainly about templates

You may have a deeper problem on your hands. Take a deep breath, have a look again at the framework, and see what it says about the processes to be followed and who should be involved. Talk to the PMO to see what advice they can give you about processes, who should be involved, key concepts etc – find out as much as you can about anything other than templates.

If you find that your framework really is template-centric I believe you have a systemic corporate issue that requires the attention of top-management in your organisation.

For the record, PRINCE2® is a process-based approach, not a template-based approach. The most recent refresh of the method – the 2009 edition – makes this abundantly clear and I invite the doubters to have a very close look at it before levelling the accusation that the method is about templates.

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