Today we’re thinking about forms and templates – those reusable artifacts that mean every time you need to produce a letter or a piece of proof or a report as part of a process, you don’t have to start from scratch. Unfortunately ‘forms and templates’ per se aren’t particularly riveting to write an article on – and probably even less read – but they’re in the organisational model we’re exploring, so I’d better get on with it! Expect either lots of tangents or a VERY short post.
Templates are essentially documents (oh dear – here comes the first tangent already! The templates I’m talking about are documents, but ‘templates’ in reality can apply to anything. Stencils of say shapes and letters, paintings (think paint by numbers), essay plans, even 3D printing. Have you heard about it? I’m fascinated by it – there must be an infinite number of possibilities! Ships and musical instruments and statues too…)
Nevertheless templates, for the purpose of today’s post, are essentially documents that have had all the unique contents ripped out of them so they can be used more universally. Alternatively you can view them as documents that have been developed so they can be applied universally within a process step and tailored for specific circumstances. (I would generally say the second approach works best, incorporating the learnings of the first approach, but I’m a top down thinker.)
Forms are a type of template, in that they are documents that can be used fairly universally within a process step. However while templates – within my taxonomy – are used by people running a process to create a finished product, forms are generally used by people either running or receiving the benefits of a process to record information that will be used in a finished product. Reading back over that I really need to think about a more concise distinction between them!
Okay, let’s try again… A template is essentially the skeleton of a document that will be tailored and produced within a process, whereas a form is a document that will be used to capture information within a process. So, they are quite different really, with different purposes. Yet, the main thing is that going the extra mile to create a template or a form, which can be reused for the majority of circumstances to which a process applies, saves you the time and errors that would result from recreating them from scratch each time.
However, what most interests me about this subject is when you are undertaking a process step and you think… wow, I might need to replicate this in the future… is it always worth going the extra mile to (1) make it more universal so it can be replicated on multiple occasions, (2) formalise it into some form of intellectual property, and (3) possibly take the spontaneity out of it?
And I guess it should have a simple answer. When it is going to take you less time to make the template or form, than to create them afresh multiple times, why wouldn’t you? It’s just that sometimes you don’t know how often the process will be undertaken when you first think ‘hey – maybe I could make this into a template?!’
And do you know what – this doesn’t just apply to forms and templates. It applies to the documentation of processes and reporting metrics and in fact anything required for superior business analysis. There’s an old adage that I try to subscribe to: “anything worth doing is worth doing right”. So, if you’re going to do something, you might as well think about the ‘right’ way to do it ‘right’ from the word go… which should generally create your template or form for you.
Actually it’s good putting thoughts down in writing; it somehow cements the jumble of thoughts floating around so you can connect the dots. This connects the dots for me back to my process vs project mental dilemma… ie when should a ‘project’ really be a ‘process’? A common understanding is that a project is a once-off enterprise, whereas a process is repeatable with the outcomes. Really it all comes back to how far you are willing to errrr… ‘decustomise’ the steps undertaken to reach an outcome and make it into a process. Maybe that’s something I need to leave for another day.
But when you are looking at any outcome – any outcome – and the steps needed to reach it, have a think about how much of those steps can be made more high-level and into a more universally reusable process. Then out of those steps, have a think about how much of those steps will benefit from a template or a form (or maybe even a checklist!) to speed up things, reduce errors, and allow you to spend your mental energy on something a bit more exciting.
Have a real think though. Not only are there times where you can make a template or form too universal to be useful and there is a point at which you can take templates and efficiency generally too far and risk alienating the people at the receiving end of the process. It’s all a balancing act.
What do you think?
What’s the most interesting application of 3D printing templates you’ve either thought up or heard about? And at what point do you think creating a form becomes bureaucratic overkill rather than useful and time-saving?
(Picture: photo taken of page 25 from ‘The Lettering Book’, by Noelene Morris (1982) Ashton Scholastic.)