Project Documentation: What Is It and How to Do It Right?
Any initiative comes with paperwork. However, project documentation’s importance is greater than that of your run-of-the-mill paperwork.
Properly documenting projects comes with numerous benefits.
In this article, we’re going to show you the most important project management documents, as well as teach you how to document properly.
Let’s take a look!
What Is Project Documentation, and Why Does It Matter?
According to various definitions, project documentation is “a set of officially written, maintained or recorded material with information or evidence pertinent to your project.”
The main purpose of project management documents is to provide materials that you can reference, and with which you can prove that something was or was not done.
For example, when you’ve finished a project, you can reference documentation to double-check that the end product meets the quality standards and expectations set at the beginning.
Without relevant project documents, you would have no way of confirming that your project has met the client’s expectations.
They could easily say that they’re not happy, and you’d have no way of proving that you’ve done everything you agreed on.
Similarly, with project documentation, you can gauge some valuable lessons about your performance.
Then, you can apply them to future projects, improving your success rate.
Finally, documenting your project is one of the key responsibilities of your role as a project manager.
Other benefits of project documentation include:
- Define the benefits and costs of the project, and allocate resources with higher accuracy
- Use a variety of methodologies, depending on the project’s specific requirements
- Break down (sometimes overwhelming) project work into manageable tasks that are easier to track
- Evaluate performance and progress, and make sure you complete the project in time
- Check if the requirements have been met, and plan on meeting them. Without project documentation, there is no way of confidently knowing what has to be done, and what’s left to do
- Reference change and risk documentation in case of disputes, scope creep, or other issues, to make resolution plans
- Accurately communicate with all project stakeholders, including clients, top management, and project team members
- Assign task responsibilities and prioritize tasks with more accuracy than without proper project documentation
- Identify issues and/or risks before they’ve affected your project.
All these benefits are barely grazing the tip of the project documentation iceberg.
In general, project documents can help you understand, plan, and manage your projects better.
This is especially important if you’re a first-time or occasional project manager.
When you’re working on your first projects, you want to make sure the plan is watertight, and that no details slip through the cracks.
By using project management documents, you’ll improve your success rate and customer satisfaction from the get-go, and increase your credibility.
Free Project Plan Template in Excel
Click to download our Free Project Plan Template in Excel to begin simplifying your project management.
Which Project Management Documents Do You Need?
Now that the benefits are clear, you don’t have to despair.
There really aren’t that many documents to keep track of, and they can significantly improve the way you work on your projects.
Here are the documents you’ll need:
1. Project Initiation Document or Project Charter
Your project initiation documentation has to thoroughly define:
- Project outline, expectations, and details
- Project goals
- Project scope
- Project deliverables
- Project organization
- Business case for the project (How will it meet business goals?)
- Project constraints (What cannot be done?)
- Project stakeholders
- Project risks
- Project controls
- Reporting frameworks.
Typical project initiation documents are extremely detailed, which is why project managers sometimes use Project Charters instead.
Your Project Charter should include:
- Reasons for starting the project
- Project’s objectives and constraints
- Project work directions
- Project deliverables
- Project stakeholders
- Project risks
- Target project benefits
- Budget and spending authority.
Source: Six Sigma
Your project initiation documentation is crucial.
You’ll be referencing it throughout the project, as well as when the project is finished, so make sure it includes all the important details.
Project Scope Document
The second most important document is your Scope of Work.
Your Scope of Work document should include:
- Project timeline
- Project milestones
- Project constraints.
The goal here is to ascertain what will be done, what can be done if needed, and what cannot be done at all.
Source: Coach Carson
For example, you may be building an app for the client.
You could stipulate that you could spend 50 additional hours on changes.
However, you may not be able to spend any more time than that. That is a constraint.
Similarly, it’s always a good idea to define project milestones.
They’re great for tracking progress and checking in with stakeholders.
3. Project Plan Is One of the Most Important Project Management Documents
When you’ve defined the basics, it’s time to actually plan out the project itself.
Project plan contains all your plans regarding tasks, milestones, and timelines.
Consider it as your road map to project success.
Your project plan should include:
- A work breakdown structure
- Task responsibilities, priorities, and deadlines
- Preferably your critical path, as well
- Resource and budget management
- Stakeholder communication and reporting plan/schedule, and a RACI matrix
- Quality and performance management plan
- Project change management plan
- Risk, change and issue management plan.
In short, your project plan defines what you’ll do to complete the project.
It’s one of the most expansive documents in your project, but it’s well worth the time it takes to assemble it.
4. Other Project Documents You’ll Need
In addition to the big initiation documents that will set the project off on the right note, you’ll also need:
- Project closure report (What was achieved? What were the lessons learned? Other information the receiver needs to know.)
- Change and risk log (What changes and risks have you handled? How did you mitigate them?).
As you work on your projects, you’ll likely add your own documents to the list.
You’ll combine some documents with others (e.g. project requirements document may be added to your project charter).
However, these are the most important project management documents to start with.
Tips for Documenting Your Project Like a Pro
1. What You Need to Document
As a rule of thumb, you should document everything that may pose a potential problem in the future, if left undocumented:
- Legal constraints
- Changes, issues, and risks
- Requirements and deliverables specifications
- Client meetings with proposed changes.
2. Use Document Collaboration Software
Communication is vital to project success.
For example, Project Central is a project management and project tracking tool that integrates seamlessly with Office 365.
You can easily monitor and report on progress, communicate with team members, and ensure your project is progressing as planned.
Project Central also helps you collaborate on documents, keep everyone in the loop, and prioritize tasks that matter. It’s just like your digital project charter!
3. Use Work Breakdown Structures and the Critical Path Method
Create accurate project plans with a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).
With your WBS, you can break down project work into relevant tasks and sub-tasks.
And once you’ve done that, it’s time to chart your critical path.
By identifying task priorities, lengths, and dependencies, you’ll be able to create the quickest path to achieving all project goals.
Then, you can use the information gathered from your WBS and critical path diagrams to create highly-accurate and efficient project plans.
After that, documenting your project will be a piece of cake!