Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Keep it simple - Standarised Template Use

Project Management Standards - Needed if not wanted...

In today's blog post I'd like to explore the concept and relative importance of "template standards" within an organisation, and why it is important for flexibility in some aspects, while maintaining a more rigid structure in others. For example, each organisation has their own templates and supporting process for writing and managing project documents, and managing project financials. These processes vary greatly in terms of the approach taken, as well as the maturity of each organisation. One of the biggest challenges faced when starting a new job is finding the tools you need, and understanding the processes that are in place.

On the document side, the tool-kit may include business cases, project management plans, test plans and strategy documents, right through to post implementation review and close-down reports. One needs to understand when to produce which document, where the template is stored, what the review process consists of, and even where to save the documents.

Screen shot example of a document created in UniPhi using
 a personalised template

The financial management processes may also apply to the handling of information such as proposal documents, tender submissions, progress claims, and invoices. Similarly, each person with responsibility for managing a budget within the organisation  will  need to understand how the budget was created, what are the delegations of authority, how it will be tracked, and which system (or systems) are required to stay on top of the whole financial management process.

In supporting these processes, most organisations set up document standards, often designed by, or in collaboration with the Project Management Office. A lot of time, effort, and consultation is involved in establishing and maintaining this suite of templates and processes.

The argument for having this standardisation, is that when executive stakeholders review a particular document meant for their approval, they are in fact comparing apples with apples, not apples with oranges. But the world of organisational change is complex, and businesses evolve over time either due to changes in maturity levels, technology, or political change.

What not to standardise

If the fundamental message that needs to be conveyed when producing a document such as a business case is "what are the key concepts and benefits" that the author is proposing, then it is essential that the author can achieve this without being constrained by a rigid template format where variations or modifications are not possible or not allowed.

In constrictive environments such as this, producing an important document such as a business case, becomes little more that a form filling exercise, or worse, the author may find ways to circumvent the process, which can lead to "invisible" or secret projects.

Flexibility in a way that supports a complex adaptive environment, without diminishing the value of the key messages that are being articulated, is therefore important when dealing with the contents of each document. When we think about the actual storage of that information, any flexibility will be a terrible prospect, as it is for organisations where ineffective network folder structures, and reliance on emails is a tremendous drain on time and efficiency.

What to standardise

On the other hand, when dealing with the financial aspects of your business, or of your project, a level of consistency is required both from a management perspective, and in order to present a consistent and professional image to your external stakeholders (suppliers, or clients).

The standards that must be maintained within the financial sphere include a defined Chart of Account (or charts of account), whereby the person or persons responsible for establishing a project budget can allocate costs to a standard set of codes. Firm standards must also exist when completing financial transactions, such as raising an invoice, or a purchase order, and then subsequently paying for the goods, or receipting payment of goods/services.

Flexibility in the financial sphere is an important factor when it comes to how this information is elaborated on, as the project evolves and more information becomes known, e.g. as a project progresses from  budget estimate to an approved and more granular format. In this case you need the ability to capture and track your costs to the level of detail that you have at hand. Over time, your finance department may identify the need to change or expand on the details used within your organisation's Chart of Accounts. Without sufficient flexibility here, your organisation will face significant change costs, as per the blog I posted here. And finally, having some flexibility around the way that your financial documents (reports, invoices, contracts, etc) are presented is important, especially when changes such as corporate logos, addresses, or the need to include a reference number are required.

Screenshot example of UniPhi's Template design tool.

This understanding about the need to balance standards with flexibility has been at the core of the UniPhi product since its inception almost 10 years ago. UniPhi's managing director, Mark Heath, having worked in several Portfolio Management Offices (PMO) recognised the dangers and implications which arise from organisations being too prescriptive and controlling in some regards, and lacking an effective technical solution for areas where standards mattered the most (e.g. finding documents, or retrieving stored information). Mark's own experience, and foresight, means UniPhi has been built with sufficient flexibility in mind.

UniPhi's software solution to standards

So how does UniPhi achieve this balance? Quite simply we provide you with training and/or reference materials to enable you to perform any configuration changes required to the aspects where flexibility matters.

We do this for two reasons, firstly, we are opposed to the practice adopted by some software vendors whereby the client is forced to pay exorbitant rates when minor system configuration changes are required. Secondly, each client is subtly different. You will know how your business operates, and as a result we allow you to "tweak" your deployment to best meet those requirements. At the same time, UniPhi has been designed with rigid design rules where they matter. An example of this being that each unique project in UniPhi is the reference point for all information relating to that project. This mitigates the risk of "losing" a document, a risk, or an issue through user error resulting in information being saved in the wrong location.

It's no surprise that UniPhi is generating a lot of interest, and winning awards for the innovative way we approach Portfolio, Program, and Project Management. If you'd like to find out more about how UniPhi can improve your business, why not contact the team, or sign up for a free trial. Efficiency awaits!


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