10 Best Practices For Effective Project Documentation

Editorial Team

Project Documentation Best Practices

A project can be a major undertaking and a serious time consumption in any line of work. No matter how large the project may be, there are certain practices that, when applied, can break the project into much more manageable steps. In this article, we will cover the 10 Best Practices For Effective Project Documentation that will explain in full detail on how to apply those manageable steps to your project with these key concepts of Project Documentation Best Practices.

1. Plan The Project Prior To Any Other Task

Don’t leave anything to chance. You should sit down with the shareholders or department managers requesting the project. Ask them for the full project details, which include:

  • What is your budget to complete the project?
  • What is the number of staff appropriated for the project?
  • What are the full results anticipated?
  • What your role as project manager will include?
  • What is your beginning date and your deadline?

Do not begin the project until you have an answer to every question in the list above, and follow these steps of Project Documentation Best Practices as a readiness preparation list.

Once you have an answer for all of the project planning questions, you should put your project definition documents together. In your project definition document, you need to specify the full scope of the project, the significant roles of each staff member included on the project team, the anticipated costs and your full budget plan, and the project duration plan.

Every member of your project team should receive a copy of your project definition document. This document should also have signature fields so that you can request a signed copy from each member of your project team. This ensures that everyone has received a copy and that they know and understand the role they are to play on your project team.

2. Plainly Define What The Expected Project Results Are

Ensure that you understand exactly what the end result is supposed to be. Your end goal needs to be clearly defined because this is the result your entire team is striving to accomplish throughout the project. If everyone understands what the end result is, everyone can keep their eye on the goal throughout the project to measure the path to success.

In addition, you need to plainly define the role of every project team member. If one person is to issue purchase orders and match them to their correlating invoices, that person needs to know the role that has been assigned to them, your expectations of when they will complete that task, and what should occur if they discover there is an issue with them fulfilling their role in the project. If everyone has a written expectation, and a written procedure of what to do in case of an unforeseen problem, there is a documented procedure to reference as often as necessary.

3. Create A File For Your Project

All of the project related documents need to be saved to this project file. You should share access with the project team members so that everyone can access all of the project related documents at any time. However, only the critical project team members should be able to change the documents that are saved in your project file. Everyone else should be issued a read-only status.

Ensure that all of your project documents are saved to the project file. Any incoming hard copies should be scanned and uploaded to the file as well. This is to include your project definition document, budget documents, scope and overview, emails between project team members, approval documents, purchase orders, change orders, invoices, permits, and any other project-related documents.

Start a project-wide email list. This will ensure that any communication to the project team gets sent to the entire team and that everyone stays on the same page. Request read receipts for project team emails. All of your team communication needs to be saved to your project file, and everything needs to be backed up to drive or server.

4. Track And Report The Project Progress To Every Team Member

All accomplishments toward project completion should be documented as they occur. Get into the habit of sending a weekly progress report on the project to your entire project team. Ensure that any challenges that arise during the week are also noted, and make notes about the plan moving forward to address those challenges.

It is a wise idea to have a project brief weekly with your team. Per Project Documentation Best Practices, all of your team should stay consistently abreast of the project details. This is a great way to ensure that if anyone is having a problem fulfilling their role in the project, or if they have met with challenges they are not sure how to address, the entire team can discuss the matter and decide on the best method to handle the issues moving forward. You may discover that the challenge isn’t unique to that particular team member, but an issue with the entire team having to solve that problem.

Once your briefing has concluded, make sure that the meeting minutes are typed and distributed so that everyone has a written record of the date and resolution of every issue that they bring to the team. This is why communication, as we discussed earlier, is the key to success in your project team. When you keep your team on the same page, everyone is constantly moving toward the goal from the same starting point.

Don’t wait for communication, or a lack thereof, to become a problem before it is addressed. Tackle any communication barriers prior to them becoming a problem amongst your project team. Any shareholders or management members that are overseeing the project need to be included in the mail distribution also. This is to ensure that someone on every level of the project is constantly informed and can bring any issues or concerns to your team if they should arise.

5. Manage The Changes

It is a fact that, from time to time, shareholders or managers are going to want changes to the project. However, there should be one designated team member that those changes can be reported to or requested. In turn, that project team member can report it to the team for discussion. Ensuring there is a key person to handle all requests is fundamental to Project Documentation Best Practices.

When changes do arise, it is vital that someone is assigned from the project team to see that the change is implemented on every level of the project. From the project definition document to the end goal, every item that the change affects needs to be documented. This not only ensures that accountability is addressed, but that the full ripple effect of the change is documented.

If it is a major change, such as changing the scope, budget, or time frame by more than 50%, it should, in reality, become a new project. This is also addressed later in this article.

6. Version Control

This is an absolutely critical part of project management. Being receptive to feedback is the route to addressing any hiccups in the project prior to the minor issues becoming major setbacks. Perhaps add a footer to your documents to automatically denote the version of the project definition document you are working from.

All change documents, per Project Documentation Best Practices, should require an approval signature prior to moving forward with any deviations from the original project scope. All change documents that are approved should then be distributed team-wide, with updated roles if necessary.

7. Any Major Project Change Requires A New Project Approval

This is where the 50% rule should firmly apply. If your project scope, budget, or timeline change by 50% or more, it is no longer the same project. This major type of overhaul should require new documentation and approval because the entire realm of the project has majorly changed, and you are no longer working toward the same goal.

Sometimes, shareholders or managing staff members don;t fully grasp the depth of the changes that they are asking for. By ensuring that the 50% rule is adhered to, you are asking that a managing staff member looks over the full effect of the change that has been requested, and that they give their blessing for this major overhaul to the project that is already underway.

8. A New Project Document Is Issued After Any Change

Any change is to be fully documented. The change should be addressed by the team, reported to the shareholders or managers responsible for the project team, then documented in the project definition document and distributed. There is no reason to deviate from this system at any point in your project as this system ensures that you have documentation and accountability for any and all changes to the original project plan.

In addition to keeping the project team and staff members informed, this is also a great way to ensure that personal accountability is met. Nobody wants to be the member of the project team that didn’t complete their tasks for the week when the changes are approved and roles adjusted. When every noted change to a project member’s role is viewed by the project team and managing staff, it ensures that even the most resistant member of your project team will make every effort to meet the goals that you have set for them to meet.

9. Regularly Check And Document Accountability

As discussed earlier, any issues with fulfilling a role on the project team need to be addressed as they occur, not once it has led to a problem with completion. At your weekly briefing, you should provide tracking and trend information on not only the project itself, but on your teams’ individual roles and their personal progress toward the project goal.

Personal accountability is vital in your project successfully meeting the goals that have been set, and you must maintain a clear view of everyone’s progress in addition to the project progress. Any project team member that isn’t meeting goals should feel as though they can meet with you to address the issues that they are having.

By informing the project team that you are open and receptive to their concerns, you are ensuring that the team members are comfortable in bringing any matters that could affect the project timeline to your attention and working toward an acceptable solution with you.

If you discover that a person is unable to fulfill their role on the project, you should work swiftly with your team and management to either replace the person or have the portion of their role that is problematic reassigned to another member of the project team. You don’t want to have your timeline blown by the challenges of one individual not being addressed. If you work through any matters of this kind that arise the moment that they are brought to your attention, you are ensuring that there are no complications waiting to sabotage your project closing.

10. Review, Reflect, And Close Project

Once everything has been completed, down to the final billing, you can file and complete your project. However, it is important to remember that you aren’t completely finished until all invoicing has been completed, you have your records filed and the last nods of approval have been given from the shareholders or managing staff members. This includes any change orders that were issued on the project, regardless of their anticipated completion date.

Review your original project definition documents with your project team. Ensure that the original checklists that were written for their roles have been met. Request and review all of the documents that were requested from your project team members.

Verify that the original project outcome is met. Verify that the budget has been met, or if you are over budget, supply any change orders, purchase orders, and approval documents along with a copy of the budget to your managing staff or shareholders. Prepare yourself for the questions that may be asked about the results, and document what you feel were your challenges and successes throughout the project.

Finally, once all of the documentation has been reviewed, write up your project closing document. Be sure to include the team members’ successes and challenges, any changes that were requested and their approval status, and your own challenges in the completion of the project. Thank your project management team for their contributions and ask them for feedback on how they thought the project went, and what concerns they have about your project management for future reference. Submit your reports to management or shareholders, and enjoy the results of your project.