Sunday, May 13, 2012

Corporate Templates Still Don’t Work

Since my original post, I’ve received good feedback on this (thanks) and had 22 months of additional insights and frustrations. I am changing some of my original recommendations, but in general most corporate Powerpoint templates still have a long way to go to become useful and usable tools for their intended users. (I’ll consider corporate Word templates in another post.)

Why? There are many reasons, but I think they all have a common root cause: developers (those who make the templates) do not fully understand or appreciate their customers’ world (customers = users: people who use the templates). Some broad issues to consider:

• Too many cooks. Between Corporate Communications, marketing, IT, operations, HR/ training, and senior management, many enterprise-level template initiatives have way too many well-meaning but unnecessary people involved. It’s understandable, particularly in large organizations, but it has two unhelpful consequences: 1) templates designed by committee (see camel) where, 2) the committee is usually made up of staff people with little or no experience in the organization’s real product development, sales, or service delivery – that is, they don’t do what the company does.

• One size does not fit all. In many organizations, Powerpoint is used to produce lots of different types of outputs. At the least, most organizations would benefit by having one version for ballroom-style presentations and another for boardroom-style documents. When you also consider people’s individual skill level (e.g., ordinary vs expert), you could easily imagine a simple 2x2 (below). This suggests at least 4 different “base” templates.

Expert user

Ordinary user

• Built as a tool, not as a system. To be effective, good template files need to be part of a larger system that supports your organizations’ visual identity and brand. Depending on the size and culture of your organization, this might include: training and support materials (e.g., video how-to’s, reference documents, central repository/ website, etc.), a network of trusted internal advisers/ experts, and a change management plan (i.e., keeping up with customer and technology changes).

• Application development, not design. Today, templates are as much dynamic software as a branding tool, yet few marketing, communications, or even IT groups are comfortable with the rapid and continued iteration necessary to develop and maintain useful apps. A useful enterprise template cannot be a static file (or group of files) that doesn’t evolve or continue to change based on feedback from its user community and their needs, including those who represent the organization and its evolving needs.

• Not meeting people where they are. Many corporate templates that I come across are either too complicated or too simple for their audience. Too complicated: people ignore all the embedded wisdom or maybe avoid using the template altogether. Too simple: people make up their own rules about what to do under every circumstance, undermining one of the reasons for having a template. This is the audience/ user side of “one size does not fit all” – developers of effective templates really need to understand their audience (i.e., “customers”) and the everyday worlds they live in. Even in small organizations it’s worthwhile to map the various users and uses.

Designing for the organization or enterprise is a complex and artful process, no wonder we see so few successes.

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