A Primer on Processes and Templates
Recipes for cooking are a beautiful thing. A recipe tells you the ingredients and how much of each you should include in whatever you are making. It then describes what you need to do to these ingredients in order to make a dish that is not only edible, but tasty as well. It’s great that someone else has already spent the time in putting together a recipe to follow that nearly guarantees success each time.
To a certain extent we use recipes in our profession as project managers. The recipes we follow are the processes and templates that guide our projects to success each time. How can you put a process together and make the most of templates? Consider the following:
A Primer on Processes and Templates
Start with Phases
To put a process together, a good starting place is defining the major phases in which a project must go through. Think about how a project moves through your organization, and document those major steps. For example, a simplified software development approach would include the following phases: Planning, Design, Development, Testing, and Implementation. These phases are the framework in which you begin filling in details about the process.
Move on to the Outputs
The next area to concentrate on is the outputs, or end results, from each of these major phases. Ask yourself what tangible deliverable needs to be complete by the time you finish the Planning, Design, or Development phases. Focus on tangible results, or something you can see, touch, perform an action on, or feel. For example, the Planning stage is going to be filled with meetings and conversations that by themselves do nothing to move the project forward. However, the approved Business Requirements Document is an invaluable output that can propel the project forward to the next Phase of Design.
Back up to Inputs
Now that you have the tangible end results (or deliverables) of each phase defined, ask yourself what needs to be present at the beginning of each phase to create such results. Continuing with our example above, the output of the Development phase would be software functionality that can be tested. In order to accomplish this, the engineering team will need High Level and Low Level design specifications as Input. This will allow them to know not just what they are going to build, but more importantly, how they are going to build it.
Establish Conversion Activity
You now have the Inputs and the Outputs for each of the phases of your process. The final step is to determine what needs to be done to convert the Inputs to Outputs. Think about it this way…what has to be done to change the gooey mess of runny batter into a cake? You need to bake the cake. There’s your conversion activity. Likewise, what do you need to do to convert software that is ready to be tested to software that is production ready? You need to create test plans, execute test plans, and document the results.
What About Templates?
Templates are incredibly useful for all areas of process you create. You can use templates for your inputs (i.e. Business Requirements Document), your Outputs (i.e. an approved User Acceptance document from the customer) and all points in between. Create templates that will provide consistency and make it easy to transition from one phase to the next with confidence.
One word of caution when it comes to process and templates…don’t overdo it! Create just enough process and documentation around your project to float the boat. It can be tempting to have a process or template in place for every little thing. Resist that urge. Remember, too much of a good thing can ruin a good thing. Stick to the recipe and you’ll be able to guarantee consistent results time and time again!