Successful project management always includes comprehensive project documentation across all project phases. Changes take place continuously within a project, tasks are completed, milestones are reached or failed, responsibilities change, or timing is adjusted. Only if these steps are also properly documented all involved will have an overview of the current status and the progress.
Added value for future projects
The task of project documentation is often neglected by many project managers. The already limited time of a project life cycle often makes the documentation seem less important.
However, good project documentation is extremely useful, especially concerning avoiding repetition of errors in future projects and maintaining good practice. What sounds like a lot of effort is - if done correctly - indispensable for a successful project and offers great added value. The best, with the right project management software, you can usually create a good part of the documentation automatically.
- What is project documentation?
- What are the contents of project documentation?
- Why is project documentation important?
- Good project documentation through project management software
- Project management templates
1. What is project documentation?
Project documentation provides a detailed overview of the collected knowledge and the path of the project life cycle. All important milestones and tasks during a project are recorded in a structured way to create a meaningful collection of documents.
What sounds like a lot of work, pays off later when planning for the next similar project. It benefits the team to get similar projects accomplished faster in the future and can reduce uncertainty in many areas.
One of the main goals of project documentation is to create a knowledge collection for upcoming projects, improve planning, avoid delays, and solve upcoming tasks more effectively and efficiently.
2. What are the contents of project documentation?
Project documentation is an integral part of a project team's work. All tasks are defined, planned, and assigned, the same applies to the project documentation.
Preparation of the project documentation
The objective of preparing the project documentation is to define clear rules and responsibilities within the team. For the best possible outcome, the following questions should be clarified in advance.
- Who is responsible for the documentation?
- How are records saved?
- How are records referenced?
- How are records retrieved?
- How are records backed up?
- Who needs access?
- Which project documents are archived and how long?
- Which digital storage can be used best for project documentation?
Everyone involved in the project should be aware of the relevance of project documentation. Project managers should set up a proper reporting and recording system that supports collecting data and turning data into all sorts of information. Companies, as well as clients for whom a project is carried out and even key stakeholders, must develop strategies and define clear requirements for the project documentation.
Content of the project documentation
The exact contents can vary according to the project requirements and framework conditions. An event has different requirements than a construction project, for example. However, below is a brief list of documents and records that could be included.
- Design, as-built records, and quality control…
these types of records are of use for future projects but are also of great importance to record the project and its features for future reference.
- Milestones and schedule…
Definition of clear goals and intermediate goals form the basis of good planning and cooperation. The documentation bundles decisions make them visible to everyone and can still be traced in retrospect. They describe the course of the project life cycle and thus allow insights into optimization.
The schedule describes the exact course of the project, includes all milestones, tasks, and activities as well as their dependencies and allocated resources. In many projects, this schedule is the be-all and end-all of the planning and is adjusted and updated daily. At the beginning of a project, the schedule is based on experience-based estimates, which are supplemented by facts over time. In most cases, expensive software such as Primavera or others such as Microsoft Project and the like are used.
- Status reports…
In a team with several participants, different tasks are worked on at the same time. Status and progress reports from the individual team members are important to provide an overview of the individual tasks. They also enable generating an overview of the status of the project and to take corrective action if necessary. In retrospect, evaluations are possible to show the dependencies which may not have been recognized before and to draw appropriate conclusions for future projects.
- Meeting minutes…
During meetings, mistakes and deficiencies are dealt with and solutions are worked out. Additional requirements for the project are discussed and decisions are made.
Resolutions of any kind almost always have an impact on costs, the schedule, or other contractual matters.
- Project plan…
The project management plan describes the entire process of the project in detail and touches on all management areas, which typically range from integration to costs, scope, time, risks, and financing, to name just a few.
Developing such a plan, which can include several hundred pages, is very labor-intensive and time-consuming, and therefore costly. Parts of the document can be used for comparable projects after a certain revision.
- Applied methodologies…
In the construction industry, in particular, it is common to precisely describe methodologies for all possible tasks. The design, quality, resources, sequence of activities, HSE, and other risks, as well as materials and even their storage, are the subject of the document. In the case of work that is repeated from project to project, it is valuable to keep these documents and process them for future reuse.
Besides, various other documents and records can be saved and retained. This depends on customer requirements, legal provisions, and internal policies. It should be noted that some of these records are created with the help of special software. It is therefore advisable to keep the software (version?) as well or to transfer the documents to a commonly used readable format. For example PDF.
3. Why is project documentation so important?
Properly managed project documentation reflects individual project steps and facilitates communication within the team and the client. Dependencies and results can be found in one place, which among other things creates legal certainty and prevents errors.
5 advantages of project documentation
Staff and contractors are working on different tasks. Proper project documentation right from the initiation of the project enables and maintains a high level of transparency and certainty.
Among others, some main advantages of good project documentation are:
- Important information about the project is collected
- Legal security is created
- Facilitates communication among colleagues
- Learning from mistakes in past projects
- Simplifies reporting to customers and other departments
When should the project documentation be written?
Since the documentation is often very extensive, it should not be created at the end of the project. Decisive processes or important solutions are forgotten. Therefore project documentation should take place continuously during the entire project life cycle.
Copies of the complete project documentation are often handed over to the client during the project closure phase.
Proper archiving of documents and records is essential to allow easy retrieval of information.
4. Project documentation through project management software
In the meantime, software has become an indispensable part of daily work for most companies.
Almost all planning, communication, cooperation, documentation, and design, etc. nowadays take place on the computer with the help of special software.
The project documentation aims to create clarity about the problems to be solved. It represents a compilation of essential data about the organization, project plan, solutions, process, and achievement of the goals of the project. This is where project management software comes in very handy. It facilitates, among others, the documentation process so that as little time as possible is spent on it and the main focus is primarily on the project itself.
5. Working with project management templates
Whenever the same or similar projects or tasks arise, the right template can save a lot of time. There are templates in Word or Excel for many areas, saved and shared in a cloud they can be very flexible and can be used together in a team.
As an example, I can cite my project in Kenya, where several colleagues updated simple Excel progress registers and other things in Dropbox every day.
Other Excel files have taken data from it, processed it further, and transformed it into valuable information in the form of daily weekly, and monthly reports.
The creation of such templates can be time-consuming, but they save time with ongoing project duration, because different employees only make a few daily entries and these can be converted into a report with 3 mouse clicks, which lists data, connects and compares, calculates values and displays them in charts, etc.