Team collaboration and knowledge sharing are at the core of every goal-crushing project.
Unfortunately, several barriers prevent teams from acting on these fundamentals. According to a 2020 report from Product Management Festival, product managers, for example, find a lack of alignment around goals (44.2 percent), organizational silos (31.6 percent), and physical separation (10 percent) as the primary roadblocks to good collaboration in their organizations.
Project documentation addresses these issues with a shared workspace where team members can collaborate and share knowledge in real-time. In this guide, we'll explore the key elements of project documentation and highlight four best practices of valuable project documentation.
What is Project Documentation and Why is it Important
Project documentation is a powerful tool that helps facilitate communication and collaboration among team members. It's the process of recording and sharing information related to a project and its progress, including key milestones and deliverables.
This documentation acts as a central repository that allows your team to share important information more easily and access it anytime. It gives everyone an up-to-date understanding of the project and ensures they're on the same page, no matter where they work.
Key Benefits of Project Documentation Include:
- Increased alignment between team members around goals and objectives
- Improved understanding of project scope, timelines, and deliverables
- Faster onboarding for new team members or different teams taking over a project
- Greater collaboration and knowledge sharing among team members
- Faster decision-making and problem solving
- Easier tracking of project progress and updates
- Clearer communication with stakeholders
The Different Types of Project Documentation
Every project is unique, and the type of documentation you use differs based on the phase of the project, your team's needs, and other variables. There are five phases that most project documentation falls into:
Documentation in this phase provides a high-level overview of the project, including its purpose, scope, timelines, key stakeholders, and roles and responsibilities. This documentation helps you assign the right team members to the project and establishes a foundation for future discussions and decisions related to the project. It may include:
Project proposal: The project proposal introduces the project and sets expectations for key stakeholders. It may include objectives, scope, timelines, resources, and deliverables.
Project charter: The project charter is a high-level document that describes the project's purpose, who is responsible for it, when it begins and ends, and how the team manages and monitors it. It also serves as an agreement to be signed by all major stakeholders that confirm the project's direction.
Business case: The business case is a document that outlines the reasoning for building, buying, or renting something. Here, you're trying to justify why a company should invest in your project with its benefits.
During the planning phase, you document the high-level project plan, which outlines timelines and key milestones for each project phase. This information helps your team identify tasks required to meet those milestones and dependencies between tasks.
The documentation you may create during this phase includes:
Project plan: The project plan is a document that outlines the project schedule, including key milestones and deliverables. It defines how you assign team members to each project phase and who reports progress and issues.
Requirements documentation: At the very least, you'll want to create a business requirements document to give an overview of the project as well as define what a successful project outcome looks like. It may also highlight why the project is necessary to achieve your business goals and why these goals are essential to overall business success. If you're creating a new product as part of your project, then you'll also want to create a product requirements document
Communications plan: The communications plan delineates how you structure communication throughout the project, including who communicates information. It may also highlight tools and procedures that team members can use to communicate with one another, such as team chat platforms or collaboration software.
Risk management plan: A risk management plan identifies potential risks and outlines how a project mitigates those risks. This plan may also include contingency plans to deal with unanticipated issues during the project.
Quality management plan: The quality management plan highlights the standards you use to assess the project's quality. It may also outline procedures to ensure all team members adhere to those standards, such as regularly scheduled meetings or check-in sessions.
Procurement plan: The procurement plan outlines how to acquire necessary resources, including people and equipment. For example, this plan may include a list of potential vendors and team members and a timeline.
Acceptance test plan: The acceptance test plan outlines how you confirm that the project's deliverables are acceptable. For example, it may outline a testing procedure or provide information on what makes up an unsuccessful outcome.
Project documentation in the executing phase includes deliverables and tracking documents. These documents outline what the team has completed and any issues or challenges that have arisen.
Project meetings and reporting: Project meetings monitor progress and address any issues or challenges that arise during the project. Your documentation may include meeting minutes, which capture key decisions made during the meeting, and status reports that outline any updates on tasks and timelines.
Issue tracking: Issue tracking documents serve as a record of any issues. These documents may include information on the issue's cause, status, and resolution and a plan to address it.
Risk control report: A risk control report provides information on how you identified, monitored, and managed risks throughout the project. For example, it includes a timeline of specific risk events and a list of mitigation strategies to address them.
Change requests: Change requests are formal notifications of changes to the project plan or other documentation. These requests are critical if changes arise from risks, issues, or new project information.
Quality assurance and quality control reports: Quality assurance reports outline how the team meets the project's quality standards. In contrast, quality control reports detail any issues and may suggest alternative approaches or processes to address those issues.
Acceptance report: The acceptance report summarizes the project's final deliverables and confirms those deliverables meet requirements. Your team may use this document to justify the project's completion and refer to it during reviews or audits.
Monitoring and Controlling
The monitoring and controlling phase is a critical part of the project management process. Its purpose is to review the project's progress and compare it to the project plan to ensure it's on track. It runs concurrently with the execution phase, during which the team creates deliverables and updates tracking documents.
Key monitoring and controlling documentation includes:
Team member status report: A team member status report provides information on each team member's progress and any issues or challenges that have arisen. This report may include updates on key milestones, deliverables, risk events, and a timeline of any pending tasks.
Contractor status report: A contractor status report provides updates on the progress of contracted vendors. This report includes information on each vendor's performance, any issues that have arisen, and how the team addresses or resolves those issues.
Product acceptance form: A product acceptance form to formally confirms the product or deliverable meets all required standards and requirements. Teams use it for project audits, post-project reviews, or certification purposes.
The closing phase of a project is used to document and validate the project's completion. It also provides an opportunity for reflection on both successful and failed aspects of the project, which can inform future projects.
Key documents include:
Final report: The final report summarizes the project's overall goals, objectives, and key accomplishments. It may also include recommendations for future projects, and lessons learned from any challenges.
Project closure checklist: A project closure checklist serves as a summary of the tasks and activities involved in closing out a project. This document may include archiving documentation, updating stakeholder contact information, or terminating contracts.
Project closure summary: A project closure summary summarizes the project's status, including any issues and their resolutions. This document may also highlight key successes or lessons learned during the project.
Lessons learned: Lessons learned is a document that summarizes the key takeaways from a project. This may include best practices for future projects, insights into factors that contributed to either success or failure, and any other valuable information related to the project.
Best Practices for Creating Effective Project Documentation
Below are five best practices for creating effective project documentation.
K.I.S.S. or "keep it simple, stupid" is a well-known best practice for creating comprehensive project documentation. This philosophy emphasizes the importance of concise and straightforward language to communicate information. It also encourages breaking complex concepts down into smaller, more manageable pieces to make them easier to understand.
You can use K.I.S.S. to help you create clear, actionable project documentation with:
Simple and straightforward language that's easy for non-experts to understand.
Numbered lists and clear headings to highlight key information.
Short and concise paragraphs to maximize readability.
2. Make Use of Version Control
Version control helps you track different project document versions and determine which version is most up-to-date. This process allows you to access previous iterations of a document without searching through every draft ever created.
When implemented correctly, version control can be a highly effective way to manage project documents effectively and minimize the risk of error or confusion. There are several tools and best practices you can use to facilitate version control in your projects, including:
- Version control software, such as Git or Subversion, which allows you to track and manage changes to any code.
- Internal knowledge base software to track, organize, and manage changes to any project documentation you create.
- Regular backups, so you always have an up-to-date copy of your project documents.
- Version naming conventions, which help you clearly distinguish different versions of a document.
- Regular review and approval processes to ensure all stakeholders are aware of any changes to project documentation.
Any kind of information benefits from visual assets. For example, 63 percent of HR professionals report that the most effective way of presenting HR analytics is through interactive visualizations.
Charts, graphs, and other visual elements help communicate complex information quickly and clearly. This communication is especially critical when working with senior stakeholders, as they may not have the time to read lengthy reports. You should:
- Ensure all visual assets are of high quality and communicate their information.
- Include visual assets tailored to your target audience's needs and preferences.
- Use a combination of different visual elements, such as tables, graphs, infographics, or illustrations, to maximize impact and clarity.
- Incorporate visual assets into other types of project documentation, such as reports and presentations, to help convey key takeaways from the project.
Consistent, standardized vocabulary throughout your project documentation improves clarity and minimizes confusion.
To create effective standardization of terminology in your project documents:
- Identify key terms and phrases that you use consistently throughout the project.
- Create a glossary or reference document that clearly defines each term and its usage within the project context.
- Ensure all project stakeholders are familiar with the standard terminology and use it throughout their contributions to the project.
- Incorporate standard terminology into any templates or other resources used for creating project documentation, such as style guides or writing best practices.
A major issue plaguing many projects is the lack of a centralized location to store project documentation. When people circulate multiple copies of documents or store them in different places, it can lead to confusion about which version is most up-to-date and increase the risk of losing important information. Employees may also email documents instead of sharing the link, which can create further duplication.
Stress the importance of a centralized location for storing project documentation to prevent these issues. A few ways to achieve this include:
- Make use of knowledge base software to store, organize and share all relevant project documents.
- Designate one person or group as responsible for organizing and managing project documents across all relevant systems.
- Incorporate links to important documents into project reports, presentations, and other materials.
- Set up a company-wide email policy that requires employees to always include links when sending documents rather than emailing them directly.
How a Knowledge Base Can Help Your Project Documentation
Project documentation is critical to help facilitate collaboration and communication throughout a project. However, managing endless documents throughout the project can often be nerve-racking.
A knowledge base is a centralized location that allows you to organize and access all of your project documentation easily. This knowledge base prevents confusion and duplication by providing a clear, centralized location for all project information.
At Helpjuice, we believe a knowledge base is the best tool for managing project documentation. Our easy-to-use interface allows you to create and organize documents quickly and effectively, ensuring that your project stays on track. Book a demo today, and see for yourself how a knowledge base can help your project documentation!