Save Time, Build Expertise and much more with your PM Toolkit
Every Project Manager repeatedly encounters a situation where they need to create a new project plan, issues list, burn down chart, sprint backlog or some other project management document. Few project managers have a high quality PMO library of templates readily available to get you started on creating the new document, so you must forage around to locate a good example document or template. A much better approach is to assemble your own PM Toolkit that is always your first place to look when you need a template.
Where Can I Find a Document Template?
A friend recently asked me if I had a standard project status reporting template that she could use. Fortunately, I did have a few different templates and one was appropriate for use in her project situation. She had a quick solution for her immediate need and as a result didn’t have to waste time searching for or creating a status reporting template.
Her request, however, does point out a common situation faced by project managers: Where do I go to find templates for standard project management artifacts? You can depend upon others for these materials, but I think there is much to be said for building your own toolkit of project management templates and other project management materials.
Your Options When Looking for a Document Template
You’re a project manager with an immediate task at hand: you need to create a project management document and intuitively know that starting from a familiar template or example document can be a significant help in getting you started.
Perhaps you have easy access to a PMO library of document templates with which you are very familiar. While this is an excellent option for jump-starting your creation of a new project document, you are in a rare situation – most project managers I know are unfamiliar with any document template library that might be available to help them.
If you are in a ‘low project maturity’ organization with meager project management support, then you are left to your own devices in creating your project management documents. Most times I’ve seen project managers approach this situation by creating a brand new document from scratch, but this is only one of two frequently used options:
- Locate a similar document or template and adapt it for your use. You may start with a document from one of your previous projects or from someone else’s project that is similar to yours. Otherwise you may seek help from colleagues or search the internet for free materials (and, yes, there are some very good materials freely available).
- Creating a document template/outline from scratch. Sometimes reuse of existing materials is never considered and you devote your time and energy to constructing a new template from scratch. Surprisingly, the project managers with whom I’ve worked most frequently choose this option time after time, essentially devoting a fair amount of time and energy (repeatedly, for successive projects) on an activity that doesn’t directly contribute to the project. It is not at all unusual for me to see experienced project managers continually taking valuable project time on this endeavor – no attempt is made to leverage the prior experiences in that very same situation.
Problem is, both of these options are suboptimal and are an inefficient use of the project manager’s time.
Discovering My Need for a Project Management Toolkit
If you are a Project Manager, I am convinced that you can benefit by having your own PM Toolkit.
My PM Toolkit contains document templates for typical Project Management documents (e.g., burn down charts, issues register). I’ve gone beyond a basic toolkit and also have created annotated templates, training presentations for various project management topics, and process descriptions for many project management activities – these additional materials would not typically be in a Project Manager’s PM Toolkit.
I first recognized my need for a PM Toolkit when I started an executive management consulting company. I quickly recognized that my clients are engaging the services of my company for results, not for “work.” Our focus in consulting engagements is to successfully launch or recover large programs; out of necessity, our time must be fully devoted to actions that directly contribute to these goals. When the time comes to publish a burn down chart or create a jeopardy report we lose credibility if we tell a client that we will charge them for defining a template for a (seemingly standard) project management document or we introduce delays by inventing a new report that has the proper content in a usable format. We need these standard materials to already be defined and ready to use. Project Managers, whether they own a consulting company or are employed as a Project Manager, have this same obligation: to focus effort on the project and minimize time allocated to preventable activities (e.g., newly creating a template for a standard project management document).
You Need Your Own Project Management Toolkit
Do you need your own PM Toolkit? Probably so. Unless you'll always be in a situation where vetted templates and other information are readily available, I think a little effort invested in assembling a PM Toolkit can give a multitude of benefits. Here are the reasons that compel me to consider it essential (or, at the very minimum, very valuable) for every Project Manager to have their own PM Toolkit of templates:
- It builds your familiarity and competence with a core set of Project Management mechanisms. This familiarity enables your dexterity in applying project management principles to your project situations and builds your own competency in understanding of the types of information you must possess in managing a project. These are important dimensions of project management expertise.
- It enables you to be more efficient as a Project Manager. You’ll spend less time determining what information to assemble and more time on actually assembling the necessary project information. You’ll know from the start what information you actually need, reducing the rework that typically happens as a project management document is subjected to endless modifications as new information needs are discovered (or, more accurately, re-discovered).
- Using your PM Toolkit builds confidence. Prove your experience and expertise by bringing your toolkit into every project you lead. Give your line of management, your project team, and your customers a solid reason for trusting your project management abilities by applying your ready-to-use, proven techniques that are easily adapted to your current project.
- Having a PM Toolkit distinguishes you from others. Want to stand out from other project managers? After you’ve employed some commonly used techniques (e.g., acquiring certifications, stressing past accomplishments, blogging) then shift your focus to how you can best succeed on your next project. When hiring a project manager I certainly consider the candidate’s qualifications and history of performance, but I don’t’ stop there; I also explore how that candidate will approach a position in my organization. If I have the choice between two candidates who are equally credentialed and qualified, but one of the candidates has developed a kit of PM methods with which they are very familiar and ready to adapt for immediate use, then this candidate who is better-prepared to focus on my projects has the edge. The fact that they have created a toolkit suggests a professional approach to project management and a bias towards achieving superior effectiveness.
- It gives you a natural place to save and organize reference materials. When you encounter or invent a new project management template or technique, your PM toolkit is the logical place to save this information for future reference and use.
Here I’ve outlined the key reasons and benefits of creating your own PM Toolkit. This is probably a small sliver of the far broader topic of Personal Knowledge Management. If this (still emerging) topic interests you, then the Wikipedia entry on Personal Knowledge Management is a good place to find more on the topic. My next article in this series, Constructing a PM Toolkit, gives several useful pointers that can get you started in creating and organizing your own toolkit of useful PM materials.