Common Issues in Project Management #6: Three Things to Keep in Mind about Templates

Last time I discussed the misuse of reports. Today I would like to focus on another item I come in frequent contact with during training sessions or implementations: the template. I’ve created dozens, maybe even hundreds, of Schedule templates in my time as a consultant. Based on that knowledge, I want to share some common issues I notice within organizations. I hope you will take into consideration the three items below and see if they apply to your organization. Most of all, I hope you will be able to improve based on this article. Please let me know if you have additional advice, agree, or disagree in the comment section.

1. Templates are not set in stone

I often come across organizations that have made their own start with Project Server. They might have had some help from us or another partner in the past, but mostly I hear from these companies because they want to migrate their EPM 2010 or 2013 to Project Online. One of the things that always puzzles me is the fact that when I pick up their schedule templates, they haven’t changed since the time they were created.

How do I know this? Well, the project start date set in 1-1-2013 is always a sure giveaway. I also often see the old layout Project used to have in 2003 or 2007 is still set in the template, giving rise to the question of whether the template was even changed in 2013.

An organization is in constant motion. New revelations will change how an organization does their main processes, or new technology might speed up some elements of a schedule. Just think about it: five or more years have gone by and Project Managers are still working with an ancient version of a template!

Functional Administrators or PMO’s of Project Server/Online, please block some time in your calendar either at the end of the year or at the start. I suggest the following be done at least once a year:

  • Update the project start date (in the ribbon → Project → Project information).
  • Arrange what I call a “lessons learned” meeting with the PM’s that finished the last ten projects in your company to ask them these questions (as a minimum):
    • Did you use the template that was provided?
    • What went exceptionally well in your project that made you change the schedule?
    • What went exceptionally bad in your project that made you change the schedule?
    • In regards to the previous two questions: do you think it likely that a next project will face some of these issues?
    • Based on what was said, do you think we need changes in the template? Or to even create a new template?
  • Update the schedule template based on the meetings and the information gathered.

This will ensure that the template holds more relevant data, and is more in tune with the times we live in. The upsides are probably clear: less work for the PM to get going with his schedule. A better understanding of what’s happening with the projects in general.

2. You can create scenarios in Templates

Most templates I build are created from a single scenario situation. The organization almost always has a clear understanding of their project management processes and how they want their projects to be run.

When we look closely, there might be massive changes needed in a large portion of the schedules because a certain scenario isn’t appropriate anymore. A nice (Dutch) example is where the organization needs to get a contractor to perform a portion of the work. This could either be:

  • a preferred supplier
  • a selected vendors tender
  • a European tender
  • another reason

Each option changes the number of actions (tasks), timespan (duration), and resources (costs/hours). Typically, only the European tender scenario will be in the template, which forces the PM to create tasks, delete other tasks, and maybe rethink dependencies in the schedule.

Why not use the functionality of “Activate/Inactivate Selected Tasks”?

This feature will give you the option to work out each scenario that you can think of in the template and inactivate the scenario’s that are least likely to happen, resulting in a lot more flexibility in the schedule.

Sure the schedule will grow a bit bigger because there are more tasks in there, but the PM can easily filter a view to show only Active tasks. This gives a nice overview of the current schedule. Consider creating a “Scenario’s view” to show the inactive tasks and then hiding them from all other views.

3. Don’t use specific / local resources in Templates

Templates usually get created the first time people see MS Project. At that point in time, their knowledge was probably centered only on tasks. Just starting out, there might be two resources that they know of currently that will always take part in a special part of the schedule. Let’s call them Dave and Hank. Let’s imagine Dave and Hank are specialists and the preferred resources. At some point, Dave wins a lottery ticket, and Hank finds a new job that doesn’t blindly put him on every project 😉.

What are we left with? A template that contains two resources that always need to be deleted or replaced. Additionally, since they were specific people, there is no relevant information available to guide the replacement data. Instead of creating assignments on specific (named) resources, consider listing generic resource categories such as Carpenters, Plumbers, etc.

Another situation might arise once you make the step from MS Project stand alone to Project Online/Server. If you created your template locally and if it holds resources, these resources will become “Local resources” if there’s no obvious server equal for them. In the situation of Dave and Hank, this will mean that because they left the company, they will have no place in the central Resource Pool. If they are kept in the schedules, for whatever reason, reports will show the local resource.

Final notes

Originally this post and the one about reports were one topic I wanted to cover, but as I started writing, the post grew and grew. I bet that there still is a lot unsaid about these subjects, so I welcome all contributions to the topic. Please add something in the comments below.

I’ll be back again soon with a Wrap Up post containing insights on the Common Issues in Project Management that I’ve been discussing along the way.

Thanks for reading,


Related Content

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Webinar: How to Merge Two Departments into One Project Server/Online Instance

7 Incorrect Ways to Use Microsoft Project: Using Predecessors in Summary Tasks
3 Incorrect Ways to Do Scheduling with Microsoft Project
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Written by Erik van Hurck
Erik van Hurck is a Senior PPM consultant for Projectum, a western European Microsoft Partner with offices in Denmark and The Netherlands. On top of that Erik is a Microsoft MVP. As such, Erik assists enterprise customers to adopt the new Power Platform cloud solutions for Project and Portfolio Management. Erik has a personal blog ( and is also a writer for the Microsoft Project User Group (
  1. I’ve seen templates and endless template revisions used as a way to avoid the elephant in the room – skill and ability deficits. I have a colleague who says “a fool with a tool is still a fool”. Templates are a great boost for new PMs, a memory jogger for the experienced, and a huge time saver for everyone. We currently have WBS snippets setup for PMs to assemble based on the patterns of work (scenarios) in the project. It seems to be popular with staff regardless of their skill/experience levels.

  2. Erik, a useful and interesting article. In my work I like to add the value of a template in promoting consistency of project structure. If an organization uses a methodology with a standard for stages or phases, reporting milestones, etc. the template is an obvious place for establishing these. You can also include custom fields in the template so that you have task flags or grouping values for standard view management. PMOs usually get the idea very quickly even if there is a caution about not telling PMs how to do their job!

  3. Hi Sonya, Daryl and Graham,

    Thanks all for the speedy replies and added value to the post. I think everyone can agree that more insights are always useful.

    Kind regards,

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