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Will You Get Your Project Documentation Right?

A stack of project documentation papers and notebooks.One of the big tasks for any project manager is that of making sure that they have the right project documentation throughout the lifecycle. This might sound a bit dull but getting it wrong is going to make your life a lot more complicated in the long run.

No matter what type of project you are going to be working on the requirement is going to be pretty much the same, so it is worth going through them one by one and seeing how they can make your life a little bit easier.

The Requirements Document / Business Case / Project Charter / Terms of Reference

Whatever name you give to the document or documents you use at the start of the piece of work it is something which is absolutely essential to the project. This is where you pull together a list of the stakeholders, the scope of the project, the risks and all of the other basic information. This is the document you will want the stakeholders to sign off and once this is done the scope of the work will be clearly written down and agreed by everyone concerned. Of course, things can change in the course of the project so you will have a change control process in place, but ideally this document will show you the way forward and stop you from ever losing track of your initial objectives.

The Project Plan

Many project managers approach this task with a heavy heart and I have to confess that I am one of them, at least at the start. Once I get going I tend to kind of enjoy writing up the project plan but it is one of those jobs which are far too easy to put off time and time again. With this document you put down the dates when everything is expected to happen by and who will do it. One of the big advantages of getting it right is that you are then aware of the knock on effect if something doesn’t happen on time. You will want to build some contingency in here to avoid it getting out of control if things don’t go smoothly.

The Risk Log or Register

Every project has risks and issues associated with it and this is where you need to note them down. It is here where you need to work out what could go wrong and what is already going wrong or causing problems. The sooner you get this started the better but you will certainly look to add to it and update it as the project progresses. At first you might wonder where you are going to get this information from but there are actually a few different sources of information you can use to get this done right. For a start, the stakeholders are sure to have some ideas about the kind of thing which could cause problems later on. This is possibly a project they have been waiting on for a long time, which means that they have had plenty of time to think about the possible outcomes. Another source of risk information over time will be your own experience. You can’t be expected to come up with many risks at the first time of asking, of course. However, on your second project you should start off by wondering whether any of the risks you came across in the first piece of work will apply to this one as well. After a while you will realize that there are some risks and issues which can be included in the majority of similar pieces of work.

Other Documents

I have always liked the idea of sorting out the rest of my project documents as early on as possible. In fact, a lot of them can be designed as templates which you simply re-work for each new job you are given. In this way you can have your weekly status reports, meeting minutes, agendas and everything else ready to use from the start. None of these pieces of documentation are as vital as the previous ones on the list but they all need to done well in order to avoid problems later on. If you are on your first ever project I don’t see anything wrong with asking a more experienced project manager to give you a hand and pass you one or two of their templates to get you going. You can then pass on the favor to any new recruits you come across in the future.

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