First, let me express my general distaste for forms. While I can’t say I hate all forms, I do believe that many organizations have used them incorrectly and created situations that are more harmful than beneficial. I do believe that the right forms can be very useful and beneficial. For one thing, every time I get on an airplane, I become a huge fan of the pilot’s pre-flight checklist. However, I don’t think I want my pilot filling out a form during a crisis – I’d rather they were flying the plane. That said, I think that by following a few guidelines and understanding the nature of forms, a PMO can use them to benefit the company and the PMO!
Forms Tend to Grow Rather than Shrink.
I will not say that I never saw someone remove a field from a form, but how many times have you filled out something on a form and had absolutely no idea how it got there, or what it is for, but you have to fill it out! I could scream. If you are going to create a form for anything, start as small as possible. I’m a fan of the “one page” school – fit it all on one page. That forces you to decide what is important and drop the rest.
Now I did have one team member who thought that meant to decrease the font until it all fit on a single page – no really. This is the same guy that gave me a 91 page screen design – yes ONE screen with 91 pages of documentation. Laudable in some ways, but I could not see the customer reading it and signing off, so in my infinite generosity I instructed him to cut the size by half, making it still twice as large as the other screen designs. Well he just printed the darn thing on both sides of the paper. Surely there is a level of the pit reserved for these people, but I digress.
Here’s a real frightening thought. Your forms may be around for a long time. Not only do the darn things grow, but they seem to be immortal. What will your form look like five years from now? I don’t know, but wouldn’t it be nice if it was just as useful then as it is today. Start with this in mind; be careful not to incorporate temporary jargon, or the types of things that will require maintenance over time. Some examples are the names of departments or people, use instead the role that the person will be playing (project sponsor, project manager, etc). As a general rule, wherever possible, don’t put anything, when you have to put something make it as self-explanatory as possible. If you have to explain your form now, image how it will be in five years. Don’t image, take a look at some of your company’s forms.
Never use Two Forms where one will do.
I think that if you build a form with the idea that everyone who sees it hates it, and wants nothing more than to not fill it out, you will have a good start. Double or triple that, and rather than help your customer meet their goals, you’ve create a lifelong enemy. Fewer and less and above all, please don’t require the same information in multiple places.
I recently moved and got a new doctor. I ring the bell, wait until they slide back the opaque glass and acknowledge my existence. Upon seeing me, the nurse hands me the every popular clipboard (provided to her by the makers of Viagra) and a pen (compliments of the makers of Levitra). “Please fill these out” she says. So, with odd feelings of inadequacy, I shuffle to my seat with the enthusiasm normally reserved for my dentist and begin. Moving through the process I discover that there are 7 forms that I need to fill out – ALL 7 ask me for my name, address, city, state, zip and phone. Three ask me about my “emergency contact”, they all require my SSN and signature – I can’t go on, I’m having flashbacks. If you think this is frustrating, think how tired your customer is of having to enter that stupid 14 digit “project number” on every form! At least I care about my address and emergency contact. Don’t ask for the same information more than once.
One great example of how one team I was on used this principle is that we created a form for the project initiation. This was just to get things kicked off, get a sponsor and a PM, that kind of information. This form next became the project Charter by the addition of a few sections giving more information about he project, team, scope, etc. The charter then goes in front of the Steering Committee for approval, once approved, the charter then grows into the Project Plan document. Now, I know this is an example of a form growing – which I said is bad, but no duplicate information is required, the document grows in proportion to the stage and complexity of the project, and no one is having to fill the same thing out multiple times. I think this is a great approach- we also use this for meeting agenda and minutes – the agenda becomes the minutes by the addition of a section. There is then only one document to store.
DIY – Do it yourself.
OK, want to keep your customers from hating your forms. Fill them out yourself. I’ve advocated doing the work yourself before, and the reasons are the same. How can they complain if you are doing the work and they are getting the benefit? Certainly some will complain that you need to be “working” not filling out forms, but that’s a whole different problem. Aside from delivering value at a low perceived cost there is another benefit to you (the PMO) filling out your own forms. You certainly will not want them to be as simple and easy as possible.
Try it, I’d like to get that nurse to sit in his waiting room for 6 hours writing their name and address again and again. I’ll bet they would figure out a better way! Just like you will. If you and your team are intimately familiar with your forms, as only those who use them constantly are, you will find ways to make them as efficient as possible. That incentive does not exist when you graciously provide others with the forms. Even asking is not enough. They are probably too busy filling out forms to tell you how to do it better. If you and your team are using the forms daily, those forms will become models of efficiency – trust me!
Mr. Derry Simmel, PMP, MBA, FLMI
Derry Simmel has been in IT and project management for over 15 years. He has started 3 PMOs in the last 6 years, the latest of which is with a large project for the State of South Carolina. Derry has an MBA from University of Phoenix and a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from the University of South Carolina. He currently serves as the Vice-Chairman of Membership for PMI’s Project Management Office Special Interest Group and as the VP of Programs for the PMI Midlands Chapter. Derry maintains All about Project Management Offices, a professional blog covering all aspects of PMO.