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Masooma Memon

Bewildered by Project Documentation? Use this Checklist

Unsure what project documentation to prioritize, and how to create it? You're not alone - so use this checklist to set you off in the right direction.

Writing project documentation can feel like a lot of work - or even come across as an extra, unnecessary task on your plate.

But here’s the thing: effective project documentation makes project success a lot more likely, as it offers clarity, context, and direction around the expected work.

It also aligns the project team(s) around expected work and reduces the odds of duplicate work — improving productivity and accountability.

Plus, it promotes transparency, giving insights into who is working on what, what methods they’re using, and what schedule they’re following. 

Despite its benefits though, getting started with documentation can feel a tad bit overwhelming. But that’s why we created this guide — to give you a complete rundown of what project documentation is, its importance, and what best practices to stick by.

So without further delay, let’s dive in. 

What is project documentation?

Project documentation refers to all the documents you create for scoping and managing a project throughout its lifecycle. This includes documents like project scope statement, project brief, roadmap, and project budget, among others.

The aim is simple: to bring the project team on the same page and deliver quality work by defining and documenting a project’s objectives and requirements. 

Why is project documentation important?

From improving productivity and project success rate to streamlining communication within the team and with stakeholders, creating project documents helps in numerous ways. Let’s explore them in detail:

Ensure project goals, objectives, and requirements are met

Without project documentation, your chances of losing vital project details such as key objectives are higher. In turn, this reduces your odds of delivering high-quality work.

What’s more, documenting goals and key deliverables among other details gives you clarity on what’s required. Again, this contributes to the work quality you deliver.

Streamline communication and expectations with stakeholders

An important aspect of documentation is identifying the scope of the work involved and sharing it with the project stakeholders.

This assists in setting clear expectations of what’s required from both sides and the deliverables, improving work operations. You can also optimally use resources within the set budget this way. 

Align with team members on project requirements

Project documentation improves both external and internal communication. 

Use it to elaborate on who is responsible for what work and by when and what expectations you have from them. Your team can also use documentation to get full clarity on the project requirements and ask any questions they may have. This makes documentation an effective way to improve team efficiency. 

Develop project traceability and transparency

Project documentation lets you create a record of the work completed, who did it, and by when it was done. As a result, you can easily revisit and review who worked on which projects and how well they delivered results — optimizing resource allocation and future project processes.

Using documentation to create transparency also contributes to improving employee performance, and identifying project roadmaps, scope creeps, and overall project health. 

Optimize your processes and project management

By revisiting the easy-to-access repository of project documents you create, you can optimize your project planning and management processes. In fact, as you work on similar or related projects, you can refer to their documentation to identify common roadblocks, typical budget range, usual turnaround time, budget, and more. 

Types of project documents

The types of project documents you create depend on the project size and who you work with. For example, if you work with clients, project proposals will be an important staple in your documentation kit. If you’re working with internal stakeholders only though, you’ll find yourself creating more business case documents than project proposals.

With that, let’s dive into the different types of project management documents:

  1. Project charter. Also known as a project statement, a project charter is a short, one-page document summarizing the project in its entirety. It’s created in the initiation phase and it outlines the project scope, objectives, and participants (teams involved).
  1. Business case. This is a document highlighting the value of the project and how it’d benefit the business. Its aim? To convince stakeholders to invest in the project.
  1. Project proposal. Like the business case document, this document is also responsible for convincing its target readers, clients. It captures important details such as the project idea, objectives, timeline, and budget.
  1. Project plan. A project plan is a detailed document covering information related to the entire project and how it’ll be executed. As a result, it includes not just project goals and objectives but also specifies the methodology you’d use, the tasks involved, the budget needed, and the resources involved.
  1. Requirement gathering document. The requirement gathering document captures all the expected project specifications to ensure stakeholders are satisfied. It’s important to reference it throughout the project lifecycle to meet quality requirements and toward the end to ensure all requirements are met.
  1. Project scope. A project scope is a short document that outlines the expected deliverables while also pointing out what’s not in the work scope. It’s incredibly important for setting and managing stakeholder expectations.
  1. Project schedule. This is a project timetable that organizes tasks with their due dates and resources involved in a sequential timeline. An ideal project timeline identifies project phases, start dates, end dates, and milestones.

Read more: Getting Started With Project Scheduling: 10 Ground Rules

  1. Project roadmap. A project roadmap is a one-page visual overview — often in the form of a Gantt chart — that showcases the project’s goals, deliverables, and milestones on a timeline.
  1. Project brief. A project brief is a document capturing all important project details such as the turnaround time for the task, its goal, expectations from it, and so on.
  1. Project budget. A project budget document points all the resource and other project costs involved in the execution of a project.
  1. Risk register. This document highlights the potential risks that could slow a project’s progress. It also notes the risk management plan in place to mitigate the risks.
  1. Project communication plan. As its name suggests, a communication plan sets all the guidelines for communications with stakeholders and among project team members through the lifecycle.
  1. Project status report. A project status report is a formal report document outlining the project’s progress against the project plan. 
  1.  Project closure report. This document comes toward the end of the project. It highlights lessons learned, confirms the quality criteria have been met, and points out that all deliverables are complete. It also requests sign-off from the stakeholder.
  1. Project log. A project log is a document that tracks changes made to the project plan including their submission, review, approval, and implementation. 

Get project documentation right with this checklist

Now for how to write project documentation. Use this checklist:

✅ Note down all broad details related to a project

This includes the expected project budget, timeline, requirements, and goals. Also jot down the resources needed, their cost and availability, and stakeholder/client expectations. You’ll want to create a rough project scope, business case, and project proposal here too.

✅ Decide which documents to create for the project

Once you get a hang of project documentation, you can omit this step as you create a standard list of documents to create for different types of projects.

✅ Flesh out project details and organize them into individual documents

This stage comes after your proposal is accepted. Flesh out details such as project requirements and create a work breakdown structure, project budget, roadmap and schedule, and start assigning tasks.

You don’t need to work on this bit alone though. Get other team leads on board for better insights into the actual work involved, design a realistic timeline for the project, and allocate resources optimally.

✅ Run the formal documents by a review team

By the end of the last step, you should be having various project documents ready. Run them by a review team that shares feedback on any context that may be lacking. The idea here is simple: get an extra set of eyes for reviewing the documents for brevity, ease of reading, and comprehensiveness.

✅ Index and organize the documents for easy finding

Now publish the documents in your central repository. Add tags and index them for search. If you’ve chosen to create short videos on top of writing project documentation, make sure you add subtitles and a transcript to improve its accessibility. 

✅ Update and maintain your document library

Regularly review individual project documents to see how well you delivered on the original project plan and scope, what changes and issues were logged, how well the team did, and what roadblocks you encountered.

For other documents such as quality control checklists and documentation on how to write project documents, for instance, make sure you review and update them as needed. 

Project documentation best practices

Before we wrap this up, let’s walk you through important documentation best practices you need to be mindful of:

Not all project documentation happens in the initiation phase

A lot of documentation such as making and updating the project log and creating the closure report comes during and toward the end of the project lifecycle, respectively.

What’s important to remember here, however, is that you need to be proactive with documentation so you don’t miss capturing vital details. In short, instead of putting off documentation to a later time, get to work as soon as it’s time to create a specific report.

The key to efficient project documentation is to do just enough of it

You don’t want documentation to bog you down or turn into an overload of manual work. So it’s important to document just enough details to provide sufficient context and transparency. 

Remember: don’t let project documentation hold you back or slow your work. Instead, treat it as a means to optimize your workflow and processes and improve the overall work quality and team productivity.

Document for the 3Cs

When confused about what to document and how much to document, refer to the 3Cs of documentation: clarity, conciseness, and completeness.

That is: make sure everything you write or visualize is easy to understand and digest, uses only as many words as needed, and provides full context of the subject at hand.

Create a standard documentation process for your company

This ensures all documents created by teams in the company follow a consistent layout style and capture the same amount of details. In turn, consistency in documenting sets clear expectations and makes all documents easy to understand. 

An easy way to do this is to create a short, screen-recorded tutorial highlighting project management best practices and sharing examples of good documentation. 

Save time by using branded templates

Use a project documentation tool that gives you ready-to-use templates for different document types you plan to create. But make sure these templates are customizable so you can tweak them to your requirement and add your branding to them.

Create a central repository of all your project documents

Make sure this document library is easy to navigate and offers different accessibility settings. This way, you can easily retrieve and review documents for past and future projects as required. 

Ready to document your processes and projects today?

To summarize, the key to effective project documentation is focusing on the 3Cs: clarity, conciseness, and completeness. You’ll also want to ensure all documents are easy to read — this is critical for referencing and revisiting important project documents.

And while all of this may come across as a lot of work, using documentation templates can help remove a lot of work from your plate. Using the right project management tool also speeds up producing some of these formal documents. For example, use Runn to quickly create project status reports and project schedules.

So here’s to better, high-quality work with project documentation 🥂


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