We spent some time recently updating the templates we use at Magnus. From day 1, I’ve worked on developing templates and, over the years, modifying them to keep up with changes as necessary. We have templates for reports, for contracts, and countless forms that help us keep track of our work. The only thing standardized about our reports is the framework for the different methodologies. For the contracts, all of the terms and explanations are standardized but the design is filled in on a case specific basis. For the contracts, the standardized parts, which might also be called “boiler plate,” are always customized depending on the situation, which brings us to “emu;” An emu is a large, flightless Australian bird. I insert that word wherever customization is required in a template. Templates are helpful in providing consistency and are preferable to reusing the last contract, etc. to create a new one. At a prior employer’s, that was the practice, open the last contract, and swap out the names. I cringed when I learned this was the standard operating practice because mistakes were so easily made. The worst mistake is, of course, failing to purge client identifiable information from the document, thereby revealing confidential information. All of this may seem like common sense, but given how new hires have reacted over time, I am certain that it is not. The importance of starting with a “clean” document cannot be overstated. Keeping templates updated is an ongoing task. We have various iterations of some templates, so at a minimum, on an annual basis they are updated as to year. But, inevitably, they are modified as things change with Magnus, our protocols, deliverables, or with the world in general. For example, the word “videotape” was in the contract template for years until one day, when we realized we don’t use tape anymore. Perhaps 40 documents had to be modified to say “video recordings” instead. Thus, these templates are living parts of an ongoing business.
David likes forms and templates more than anyone I have ever known. When we are in the process of developing a new service, David routinely advocates for using a template to ensure things are standardized. Although all of my questionnaires are custom designed to assess mock jurors’, survey respondents’, and other research participants’ attitudes about case specific issues, there are some questions, for example, on demographics, that are present in every questionnaire. Thus, I use a template to start my construction of each survey to ensure all of Magnus’ end products have a similar appearance when, in the end, our deliverables are prepared for each client. It isn’t feasible to “start from scratch” or “re-invent the wheel” every time we do something. These posts are another example of Magnus’ use of templates. David and I type our parts into a pre-designed template that says “1st Blogger text:” and “2nd Blogger text:” so that there is no room for confusion about what goes where. Next, one of Magnus’ employees places what David and I have typed into the format required to place the posts on the internet, including via email to subscribers, Twitter, FaceBook, and Instagram. The posts are scheduled, via another template, to post on a particular day of the week, at a particular time. There is nothing random about the way in which we work. David goes as far as training new hires to “search for emu” when finalizing a document, to ensure everything has been prepared exactly as intended, with zero errors. I am an advocate of templates, as long as they are not overused to the point that someone’s work becomes “cookie cutter” or “fill in the blank.” While consistency is, in my opinion, a necessary part of operating a successful business, taking shortcuts is never acceptable.