Best Practice For Project Documentation: How Doing It Right Minimizes Risks

Man with project management binder

For those who have never encountered project documentation, you might wonder, “Do we really need to spend extra time on it?” If you find this concept hard to grasp, imagine a treasure hunting team leader who holds a map but has no plan, just wandering aimlessly. Although the team might still find the treasure, if they analyse the treasure map carefully, make a plan, share well-collected information and resources, and execute each step with the team according to the plan, recording and reflecting as they go, they are likely to find the treasure more quickly and easily.

Project documentation is what every professional who has completed a Diploma in Project Management online and is involved in project management needs to do once they get the ‘treasure map.’ It is integral to every step of the process. Project documentation can be complex, as it may involve a massive amount of information collection, stakeholder communication records, and task and completion management. It can also be relatively simple, like a delivery person’s daily tasks and route plans, which are part of project documentation.

Let’s delve into what project documentation is and how it helps us in our work and mitigates risks.

What is Project Documentation?

Project documentation includes all the detailed documents needed for a project’s success, such as plans, schedules, and budgets. It provides clear guidelines and activities for the project lifecycle and includes necessary files and procedures. Good documentation helps team members and stakeholders understand and execute the project, starting from the proposal to the project’s completion and review.

Breaking Down the Project Lifecycle: Phases, Risks, Benefits, and Best Practices

Phase 1: Project Initiation

This phase usually means informing stakeholders about the project’s start. Risks at this stage may include unclear goals, leading to a lack of direction for team efforts; unclear project background, leaving stakeholders confused; and team members needing to know each other, making communication difficult.

How Project Documentation Helps

Project documentation helps managers share a series of relevant information at the project’s early stages, allowing stakeholders involved in planning and execution to understand the project comprehensively.

Best Practices

1. Write a project proposal that addresses key questions surrounding the project. The project proposal could cover an executive summary of the project, project background information, a rundown of your plan, project goals and deliverables, proposed budget, stakeholders and timeline.

2. Plan your document structure in advance. Before the project begins, you need to determine a timeline and gather all the necessary information to create comprehensive documents. For example, decide when to introduce specific training to ensure that team members receive it before it becomes necessary during the project.

Phase 2: Project Planning

At this stage, managers break down the overall goal into detailed plans for how the team will achieve the goal, including a series of milestones and guides.

How Project Documentation Helps

Project documentation helps promote quality and process control. Without it, team members might blindly engage in ineffective work without knowing their specific tasks, timelines, or milestones. Standardized procedures might be ignored or inconsistently followed.

Best Practices

1. Create a project roadmap that offers an overview of the project’s milestones, deliverables, resources, and objectives against a fixed timeline. Regularly update it to keep everyone informed of different phases.

2. Emphasize standardization and consistency in project documentation to provide a single reference standard for all team members. Managers can establish and share standard operating procedures (SOPs) to guide task execution and encourage knowledge sharing by outlining processes and deliverables.

Man with binder

Phase 3: Project Execution

This phase involves the actual execution of the plan, ensuring all team members are on the same page. Risks can include inefficient meetings, team members shirking responsibilities or experiencing burnout, and staff turnover.

How Project Documentation Helps

Project documentation helps managers systematically manage resources and ensure accessibility. Even with staff changes, new employees can quickly familiarize themselves with the project and get to work.

Best Practices

1. Provide and share useful guides, work instructions, and tools to help new employees acclimate to the new work environment and solve problems independently.

2. Ensure documentation is easily accessible by storing it in a centralized location, such as adding it to your knowledge base or sharing a URL with your team, so everyone knows where to find it.

Phase 4: Project Control

At this stage, the project is on track, so the main task is to ensure it stays on schedule. Managers monitor progress and take action when necessary to ensure timely project completion.

How Project Documentation Helps

Project documentation enforces accountability, making teams responsible for deadlines and goals.

Best Practices

Establish status reports that report on the project’s progress against the project roadmap and identify potential roadblocks. This report can include:

   – Completed work

   – Upcoming work

   – Accomplishments

   – Challenges

   – Feedback

This practice creates an expectation for consistent communication and reflection on progress, allowing managers to track goals, stay on schedule, and hold team members accountable for their tasks.

Phase 5: Project Closing

This phase marks the project’s completion and usually involves documenting and summarizing the project’s performance to inform future projects. Project documentation helps managers summaries completed projects.

How Project Documentation Helps

Project documentation ensures a structured communication process and high-quality documentation, improving the experience for all involved, including clients.

Best Practices

1. Project managers often use the project retrospective document to evaluate the project — what went well, what could’ve been better, and what was learned. It serves as a reference for future projects.

2. Ensure all project documents are always up-to-date by establishing a workflow to continuously review and update records, involving stakeholder interviews to assess the accuracy and usefulness of the documentation.

3. Use clear language and concise sentences in your documentation, and add screenshots or images when needed to reduce unnecessary text.

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