Planning Templates are only available to GCORE members via the membership portal.
As a field/lone worker or researcher, your project is probably quite unique. Therefore, when conducting research in complex and hostile places, you want to make sure you are focused on the project at hand and less on the administration.
Based on conversations with experienced field researchers, NGO workers and ex-military personnel regarding the “tricks of the trade” that help them in the field, the mention of quick and easy templates is often brought to our attention. Having access to templates in order to be more efficient, effective and safe seemed to correlate with conversations about the 6P’s for field operations:
Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance!
Field templates, when properly designed, can be one of the most useful tools to a field/lone worker/researcher. For very little to no cost, the fieldworker can use templates that simultaneously save time, promote good communication and contribute significantly to project success.
There are seven key reasons to use templates:
1. Templates save time
Although templates may seem like more paperwork, we find that they actually save fieldworkers time. With so much information to gather, process and communicate, time can slip through your fingers if you don’t have a system to support you. Templates provide exactly that support system.
If project plans are not recorded and available to everyone who needs to know, a lot of time can be wasted later resolving misunderstandings about project scope and activities. So get on the front foot and add some select templates to your field toolbox.
2. Templates safeguard critical information
Fieldworkers manage a lot of project information at every stage. For example, we meet with individuals and groups, analyse for best approach, develop schedules and budgets, and assess risk. Relying on memory or informal notes to manage this information can place a project in jeopardy.
Human memory is fallible, and it’s made worse by sleep deprivation or other operational stresses. It’s easy to forget an important step in your schedule and miss an interview, or to lose track of data. Recording project activity information in well-designed templates helps eliminate this risk. These can even become a data source in their own right on returning home for analysis and writing up.
Using templates as records makes information easily available to all stakeholders. Everyone in your team knows where to find information, and can compare progress against the agreed, recorded plan. The project team and stakeholders (e.g. research participants or gate-keepers) can then obtain full benefit from the time spent in analysis, planning efforts, monitoring activities and other project work.
3. Templates provide an effective communication tool
Poor communication is one of the biggest causes of project failure. With fieldwork information recorded in a template’s easy-to-read format, we can provide it to our stakeholders to get their input, obtain approval or simply keep them well informed. If we post documents in an easily accessible location (e.g. website or shared), it becomes much easier to distribute updates and there is less confusion about which is the document of record.
4. Templates reinforce effective project management processes
From a scientific and research perspective, well-designed templates help us to perform our mission, in a reproducible manner. Build your standalone templates into a more defined project management methodology, and reassure supervisors or colleagues that you are in control of your project and have a quality approach. Templates both embody a project process and serve as vehicles for the information used in that process.
5. Templates aid effective planning
Templates make us much less likely to miss important aspects of the planning process .
If you are planning on operating in a complex, insecure place and work with vulnerable populations, our templates remind you of all the key factors to consider. And it’s usually much easier to produce a project budget with a template with prompts for potential sources of cost than by starting with a blank sheet of paper. Templates can both save time and make our planning time more productive.
6. Templates reduce fieldwork risk (in several ways):
- They serve as a repository of planning data so that the project does not have to rely on memory.
- They promote more comprehensive planning so that you or your team are better prepared to perform their work.
- They encourage communication both within the team and between the team and stakeholders.
- They provide a written record of agreed-upon baselines, plans and process thereby eliminating many of the factors that push projects into trouble.
- The written record protects you and your organisation from disaster in the event that individuals on the project leave (along with their knowledge capital) or something goes wrong.
7. Templates improve cross-project collaboration and information re-use
When templates are used, information is stored in a uniform manner (e.g. every risk register has the same format). It’s much easier to share information across projects if you know where you can expect to find it and what document to ask for. Archived information from earlier projects is more accessible for future planning. Even assuming management of a project mid-stream becomes much easier if they are using templates you already know.