templates

The problem with templates by Ivar Jacobson

Over the years I've come to regard 'templates' as one of the great evils of software process efforts. I was actually leading the Rational Unified Process team about 9 years ago when we made a big push to create templates for all the artifacts.  At the time I thought it was a good idea since a lot of people had been asking for them. I now regard the decision as having done a lot of damage.

 That statement is likely to shock some - surely I can't be arguing against having standard formats for organizing project information!  Of course I am not arguing against this - but I am against the way that templates are used in many organizations.  

In these organizations, people have little idea of the purpose of many artifacts or work products - they don't understand what they are doing or why, they just know (or believe) that they need to produce these work products.  The templates have been provided as a cheap way of rolling out the process - rather than actually building skills the templates are provided and people are instructed to simply fill out the templates to follow the process.

This approach is wholly ineffective. Organizations fail their people when they require artifacts without explaining why they are needed, or helping them to understand if they are needed, or helping them to improve their skills doing the real work that the artifacts merely document.

The usual result of providing standard templates is that people often blindly fill out the template sections, not knowing what to put in them, feeling compelled to fill out every section because it's there.  Mindlessly filling out templates is a waste of time - the results are valueless, albeit standard, and do not contribute to positive project results.  

I am not arguing for eliminating templates, however - there is some value in having a standard way of formatting and organizing information, but there needs to be some real information in the results produced.  The real problem is lack of knowledge and skills needed to do the work - this is where effort should be spent, not in standardizing templates.  Once people have expertise in doing the work, a consensus can be reached in the organization about how to document the work.  "Templates" will emerge out of that.