Wael Attili’s, TEdx talk yesterday was about templates.  He gave examples of how he and his colleagues effectively shunned existing templates in search of new paths for success.  His talk inspired me to explore this concept from a project management perspective.  After all, much of what we seem to be doing in the profession revolves around templates.

Practitioners new to project management are often on the hunt for a certain type of holy grail.  They search for an illusive solution to a problem that can only be resolved with time.  This problem, which stems from a lack of experience and limited amount of knowledge, is their very inexperience.  I’ve seen so many situations where fresh project managers think that they can compensate for that lack of experience and knowledge with a plug and play approach.  They seem to think of project management as a tool box that can simply be opened and, voila, out comes that desperately needed tool that is going to be a fix it all.

So many times this assumption is associated with the concept of templates.  Individuals new to project management think that as soon as they find that perfect template their problems are solved.  As if those templates will actually compensate for the hard lessons that others have learned from practice.  As if those templates can shield these newbies and their projects from the risks that will challenge the project and its success.

Perhaps I am exaggerating a bit or generalizing so to be clear my observations above don’t apply to everyone new to project management.  It is more of an observation of a trap that I’ve seen many newbies fall into.  I can recall when I first entered the ranks of the profession launching such a search for the perfect set of tools.  After reading standards, frameworks, and trying to come to grips with methodologies I began looking for those perfect templates.  Not surprisingly I never found them.  Even after I found some imperfect templates and working on modifying them I still was not satisfied that they provided the kind of value that I was hoping they would.

Many years afterwards, having worked in and with a variety of organizations, some which had the most state of the art project management tools and systems, I find that I’ve gotten to the point where I rebell against templates.  They strike me as too confining, too controlling, and lacking in value to someone who understands project management.

I realize that this feeling contradicts what best practices and lessons learned point to as far as leveraging templates.  In my training workshops I talk about how templates can add value to the project management process.  Reflecting on the above statements as well as opinions I’ve provided in articles and training I should state that I don’t believe that I am not contradicting myself.  I’ve come to the conclusion that in my style of management and leadership I’ve found a way to reconcile the use of templates with my need to operate independently.

This reconciliation is similar to something that Wael Attili said in his presentation yesterday.  He said “reject other people’s templates and make your own.” That simply message is a powerful one.  Wael, I believe, was talking about how we as humans and professionals should not feel constrained by what others seem to want of us.  He provided a couple of examples where his actions were almost like a rebellion against other people’s expectations.  It was clear that he was highlighting the need to chart one’s own path, even if it makes others uncomfortable.

In project management we can certainly approach things similarly, however we don’t have to shun tools such as templates altogether.  We have to develop the skills to know when a template can work and when it does not.  We have to be empowered enough to change those templates when things simply don’t work rather than forge ahead knowing that they won’t.