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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Why I Hate Document Templates

This is a rant. Sorry.

The other day I opened a document describing some technical details we were waiting for. Ten pages. Whew, should be pretty much of content. Well, not at all. The first line of actual content was on page number 9 (yes, nine). On pages 1 to 8 you could find a lot of unimportant and uninteresting stuff which no one really cared about: table of contents with every piece set at page 4, preface which had neither been filled nor deleted, empty changes summary on page 4, some disclaimers and a bonus empty page. At the end there were finally one and a half pages of real content. Actually printing anything except of pages 1, 9 and 10 of the document would be a crime against forests and should be cruelly punished.


This is just a basic example how standard document templates are done. If you need to write down a simple minutes of the meeting there’s of course a template which, while empty, is 6 pages long. What the hell? A short document with a few ideas thrown on brainstorming session? Well, can’t do without table of contents, review summary and preamble. What did you think? Less than 5 useless leading pages? No way!

I usually end up with my own standard simple template: just title page and standard company headers and footers. I use it 9 times out of every 10 I need a template to start with. The funny thing is most of the time no one thinks this kind of template is even needed. And all these 10-page long (or longer) monsters are ready as soon as first set of templates is published. Too crappy to use them, too crappy to read them – just standard document templates.

And yes, the screen like above can be found in official documents of well-known, huge, global companies. So professional.

in: project management

6 comments… add one

  • Jose September 7, 2009, 3:00 pm

    Look this free templates at http://www.gedpro.com/en

  • Yuriy Solodkyy September 8, 2009, 3:17 am

    sometimes good template just reminds people to fill the document with useful information which otherwise is omitted and the whole document may be quite useless.

  • Pawel Brodzinski September 8, 2009, 3:56 am

    Yuriy,

    Sometimes yes. But these are rare cases. If you take standard project you prepare one set of documentation for a customer and numerous rather informal notes from different meetings. In the latter case you don't need all this formal information to fill. It's just useless. And somehow it is right there waiting to be cut out (which almost never happens). And we live with loads of documents which are way too long and have the only useful data on the last page.

  • Meade September 8, 2009, 6:19 am

    Boiler plate templates may be required for company-to-company interactions (aka legal passing the buck and cya) – but internal use of them shows the focus on process instead of effectiveness. This is what happens when PMO's and CIO's focus on the wrong things.

  • Pawel Brodzinski September 8, 2009, 9:49 am

    Meade,

    I usually blame marketing team which focuses on formal documents only at the same time overlooking how often semi-formal or none-formal documents are used.

  • Mark D. September 9, 2009, 12:02 pm

    Welcome to beaurocracy. By the way, did you remember to file your TPS report?

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