Definition of a Project
The Project Management Institute (PMI) definition of a project is a ‘temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.' By definition a project is unique, meaning that no two are exactly alike. However, most organizations have projects that are similar in nature that they repeat on a monthly, quarterly or even more frequent basis. For these efforts, it makes sense to create a project template.
Sticky Note Exercise
To create a good project template, get your team together in a meeting room or virtual conference call, and encourage participation. The purpose of this meeting is to gather all of the tasks or work that the project requires. Each participant may have valuable information to add, which is why you want all team players involved. Plus, if you build a project template with everyone's input, you will earn more ‘buy-in.'
Ask everyone to call out the tasks that make up your project. Write down all of the individual tasks on sticky notes and place them on a white board or wall. Initially, do not worry about the task order, just get all of the required steps down. Once the team is satisfied that they have listed all the activities or tasks that will comprise your project, then you can create the order or work breakdown structure (WBS). Do this by putting the sticky notes in outline format on the white board. It is helpful to use a work breakdown structure (WBS) format which is like an outline format for your project tasks. For example:
Group your tasks under appropriate groupings or summary tasks. Once you have ordered your tasks and the team agrees to the order and structure, you should then ask, to what level do we want to manage the work? Some project teams outline every minuscule task, then later decide that they do not want to manage the project that detailed level. This seems particularly true of fast paced environments. The faster the pace, the higher level the team should manage the work. Otherwise, the team will rapidly get bogged down in updating tasks, rather than performing work.
Once the above is complete, you can build the tasks into a formal schedule, inputting them directly into Project Insight or in Microsoft Project desktop and use the MS Project Connector to import the schedule into PI.
Resource types or skill sets
The next step is to associate the appropriate skill set or resource type with each task or activity in your WBS. Because you may vary the actual resources you end up assigning to tasks, a good template is built with resource types in them so you can make assignments at the last moment.
If you do not have a standard list of skill sets required for your projects, you will first need to build consensus on what that list should contain. Once the list of agreed upon skill sets is made you may associate each task with a skill set. The value of associating tasks with skill sets is that when you turn to forecast your resource needs, you will know what types of resources you require prior to making assignments.
Duration and work
The next step is to decide how much time, in terms of days, each task should take. This is called duration, or the total time frame a task needs from start to finish. This is distinguished from the work or effort of a task. For example, a task might take eight hours to complete, but a resource may be given 5 working days to complete the work.
Once approximate duration is given to each task, then move to adding in the amount of work or effort each activity requires. It is always a good idea to pad the estimates a bit, but not too much, so you build in a buffer into your template. Adjustments may be made later depending on the seniority of the ultimate resource assigned and the like.
Your template will require task dependencies as well. Project tasks are best managed as a network of interdependent tasks requiring accurate duration estimates as the basis for project planning. Dates should be calculated based on the relationships of the tasks and the duration of the tasks that must be completed for the successful completion of the project as a whole.
Here are the basic task types:
Once these dependencies are defined in the project schedule, they may be displayed in a Gantt chart.
If you are planning to track labor costs and/or fixed costs, you will need to input a general budget into your template as well. Stay as generic as possible with your figures so that you may copy over as many budgeted tasks as possible. Naturally, you will need to review the data in your template upon launching an actual project.
Documents and standardization
Many project teams also decide upon a standard set of documents that correspond to projects by type. For example, if you need to have a project scope form filled out, then that standard document may be associated with your project template. In Project Insight, you may set up a standard folder structure with forms or document templates in them. These will carry over with each new project you create. If you prefer to use custom items as forms, these may be linked to the documents repository as well.
If you want to leverage all of the cool features of Project Insight, you may also set auto-alerts by role on your project templates. These will carry over to new projects, cutting down the time it takes to set up new projects.
After completing all these steps, you should have a working project template that you and your project team can re-use for similar projects or efforts. If you take the time to create a complete template, this will save you a lot of time moving forward when launching projects of a similar nature.
For a deeper dive:
Project Templates Video