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?
Project documentation is a collection of written or visual materials that describe the scope, objectives, processes, deliverables, and outcomes of a project. Project documentation serves as a reference for project managers, stakeholders, and team members throughout the project lifecycle. It also helps to ensure that the project is aligned with the expectations and requirements of the clients and sponsors.
Project documentation is important for several reasons. It helps to:
- Communicate the vision, scope, and expectations of a project to all stakeholders and team members.
- Plan and manage the project activities, resources, and risks effectively and efficiently.
- Monitor and control the project progress and performance against the baseline plan.
- Document and share the project achievements and challenges with the clients and sponsors.
- Learn from the project experience and improve future projects.
Project documentation should be clear, concise, accurate, consistent, and up-to-date. It should also follow the standards and guidelines of the organization or industry. Project documentation should be stored in a secure and accessible location for easy retrieval and review. Project documentation should be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect the current status and changes of a project.
Project documentation is an essential part of project management. It helps to ensure that a project is delivered on time, within budget, and with quality. It also helps to create a record of the project history and knowledge for future reference.
What are the contents of project documentation?
Project documentation is a collection of documents that describe the objectives, scope, deliverables, processes, and outcomes of a project. Project documentation serves as a reference for the project team, stakeholders, and clients throughout the project lifecycle. It also helps to ensure that the project is aligned with the expectations, requirements, and standards of the organization and industry.
The contents of project documentation may vary depending on the type and complexity of the project, but some common elements are:
- Project charter:
A document that defines the purpose, scope, objectives, deliverables, milestones, roles and responsibilities, assumptions, constraints, risks, and budget of the project. It also establishes the authority and accountability of the project manager and sponsors.
- Project plan:
A document that outlines the activities, tasks, dependencies, resources, schedule, and cost estimates of the project. It also defines the quality criteria, communication plan, risk management plan, change management plan, and stakeholder management plan of the project.
- Project budget:
A document that estimates the costs and revenues of the project
- Project scope statement:
A document that describes in detail what the project will and will not deliver. It also defines the acceptance criteria and scope verification methods of the project deliverables.
- Work breakdown structure (WBS):
A document that breaks down the project deliverables into smaller and manageable components. It also assigns each component a unique identifier and shows the hierarchical relationship among them.
- Project specifications:
A document that describes the technical details and standards of the project
- Requirements document:
A document that specifies the functional and non-functional requirements of the project deliverables. It also defines the sources, methods, and validation techniques of gathering and analyzing the requirements.
- Design document:
A document that describes how the project deliverables will be designed and developed. It also defines the architecture, components, interfaces, data models, algorithms, standards, and tools of the project deliverables.
- Test plan:
A document that describes how the project deliverables will be tested and verified. It also defines the test objectives, scope, strategy, methods, cases, scenarios, criteria, environment, tools, and roles and responsibilities of testing.
- User manual:
A document that provides instructions on how to use the project deliverables. It also explains the features, functions, benefits, limitations, and troubleshooting tips of the project deliverables.
- Project meeting minutes:
Documents that record the discussions, decisions and action items of project meetings
- Project risk log:
A document that identifies, analyzes and prioritizes potential threats and opportunities for the project
- Project change log:
A document that tracks and approves any changes to the project scope, schedule, budget or quality
- Project closure report:
A document that evaluates the performance and results of the project, identifies lessons learned and best practices, and provides recommendations for future projects
These are some of the common contents of project documentation. However, depending on the nature and needs of each project, other documents may be required or optional. The project manager should consult with the relevant stakeholders and follow the best practices and standards of project documentation to ensure its quality and usefulness.
Why is project documentation important?
Project documentation is a set of written or recorded materials that provide information or evidence about a project. It can include various types of documents, such as project plans, schedules, budgets, requirements, specifications, reports, meeting minutes, risk logs, change requests and more.
Project documentation is important for several reasons. Here are some of the benefits of using project documentation:
- It allows project tasks to be traceable among teams or departments
- It keeps the project expectations and objectives intact through each step of the process
- It helps track project progress throughout the course of the process
- It organizes work into manageable blocks for team members
- It plans and assigns resources to team members
- It improves communication with the project team members and stakeholders
- It defines the benefits and costs of the project, and allocates resources with higher accuracy
- It enables the use of a variety of methodologies, depending on the project's specific requirements
- It evaluates performance and progress, and ensures that the project is completed on time
- It checks if the requirements have been met, and plans on meeting them
- It references change and risk documentation in case of disputes, scope creep, or other issues, to make resolution plans
- It provides a single source of truth that saves time and energy
- It facilitates knowledge sharing and learning from past experiences
- It maintains consistency and quality of repeated projects
As you can see, project documentation is more than a formality. It is a core activity that improves project management skills and outcomes. Without proper project documentation, there is no way of confidently knowing what has been done, what needs to be done, and how to do it right.
Therefore, it is essential to document your projects throughout their life cycle, using appropriate tools and formats. Some of the key project documents that you should create are listed above.
By creating these documents (and others as needed), you can ensure that your project is well-planned, well-executed and well-documented. This will not only benefit your current project but also your future ones. Project documentation is a valuable asset that can help you improve your skills as a project manager and deliver successful projects.
Software for project documentation
Project documentation is an essential part of any development process. It helps to communicate the goals, scope, features, design, architecture, testing, deployment and maintenance of a project. It also serves as a reference for engineers, testers, managers, clients and users.
However, creating and maintaining project documentation can be a challenging and time-consuming task. It requires a lot of writing, formatting, organizing and updating of various documents. It also involves collaboration among different stakeholders and tools.
Fortunately, there are software solutions that can help you to simplify and automate the project documentation process. These software solutions can provide features such as:
- Templates and guides for creating different types of documents (e.g., requirements specification, design document, user manual, etc.)
- Version control and history tracking for managing changes and revisions of documents
- Collaboration and feedback tools for sharing and commenting on documents among team members and clients
- Integration with other tools and platforms (e.g. testing tools, project management tools, etc.) for linking and synchronizing documents and tasks
- Exporting and publishing options for generating and distributing documents in various formats (e.g., PDF, HTML, Word, etc.)
Some examples of software solutions for project documentation are:
A tool that lets you write documentation using reStructuredText (a plain text markup language) and generate HTML or PDF output. It supports cross-referencing, indexing, tables of contents, code highlighting and more. It is widely used for documenting software projects.
A tool that lets you write documentation using Markdown (another plain text markup language) and generate static HTML websites. It supports themes, plugins, navigation menus, search functionality and more. It is suitable for documenting any kind of project.
A tool that lets you write documentation using Markdown or MDX (an extension of Markdown that supports JSX syntax) and generate modern web pages. It supports versioning, internationalization, blog posts, custom pages and more. It is ideal for documenting open source projects.
A tool that lets you create and manage electronic signatures for documents. It supports various types of documents (e.g., contracts, agreements, forms, etc.) and formats (e.g., PDF, Word, Excel, etc.). It also provides security, compliance and audit features. It is useful for documenting legal or business transactions.
A tool that lets you create and organize wiki pages for documentation. It supports rich text editing, attachments, comments, labels, macros and more. It also integrates with other Atlassian products (e.g., Jira, Bitbucket, Trello, etc.) for linking and tracking documents with issues and code. It is popular for documenting agile projects.
These are just some of the software solutions available for project documentation. Depending on your project needs and preferences, you may choose one or more of these solutions or explore other alternatives. The main goal is to find a solution that helps you to create clear, consistent and comprehensive documentation for your software project.
Working with project management templates
Project management is a complex and challenging process that requires careful planning, execution, and monitoring. One of the tools that can help project managers and teams to organize and streamline their work is project management templates.
Project management templates are pre-defined documents that outline the scope, objectives, deliverables, tasks, milestones, resources, risks, and other aspects of a project. They can be customized and adapted to suit different types of projects, such as software development, marketing campaigns, event planning, etc.
Project management templates can offer many benefits for project managers and teams, such as:
- Saving time and effort by providing a clear and consistent structure for project documentation.
- Improving communication and collaboration by ensuring that everyone is on the same page and has access to the same information.
- Enhancing quality and performance by reducing errors, omissions, and ambiguities in project planning and execution.
- Facilitating learning and improvement by enabling project managers and teams to review and evaluate their work and identify best practices and lessons learned.
Project managers and teams need to be careful and strategic when working with project management templates. Here are some tips and best practices to follow:
- Choose the right template for your project. There are many sources of project management templates available online or offline but not all keep what they promise.
- Customize and adapt the template to your project. You need to modify the template according to your project scope, objectives, deliverables, tasks, milestones, resources, risks, etc. You can add, delete, or edit sections as needed. You can also use different formats, colors, fonts, etc. to make the template more appealing and user-friendly.
- Update and revise the template throughout the project. You need to keep the template current and accurate as your project progresses. You need to update the template with any changes or developments that occur in your project plan or execution. You also need to review the template regularly and make any corrections or improvements as necessary.
- Share and collaborate on the template with your team and stakeholders. You need to communicate and coordinate with your team members and stakeholders on the use of the template. You need to ensure that everyone has access to the template and can view or edit it as appropriate. You also need to solicit feedback and input from your team members and stakeholders on the content and quality of the template.
- Learn from the template after the project. You need to evaluate and reflect on the effectiveness and usefulness of the template after your project is completed. You need to identify what worked well and what didn't work well with the template. You also need to document any best practices or lessons learned from using the template. You can use this information to improve your future projects or share it with other project managers or teams.
Project management templates are valuable tools that can help you plan, execute, and monitor your projects more efficiently and effectively. However, you need to use them wisely and responsibly. By following these tips and best practices, you can make the most of working with project management templates.
Working with project management templates
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