Whether it’s the business case, project requirements, or statement of work, there will be lots of documents developed by projects. Most of the production falls into the hands of the project manager or at least to coordinate and oversee their production.
All the documents are used mostly for communicating: downwards to team members of the project, upwards to the senior managers, and sideways to the stakeholders of the project who are accountable for performing the work.
Successful projects require documents. They serve a valid purpose until they are clear, brief, fit for purpose, and easy to use.
If you are finding any difficulty in writing the documentation for the project, then follow these five golden rules which will make the process smoother.
1. Use version control: The number one tip is to use version control while preparing key documents. For example: When you prepare a document from the blotch and take it to someone to comment on it and then you add a bit more yourself and also someone suggests you an intriguing fact to add and finally you find that you got 14 versions of the same document in the inbox. This is the reason you require version control.
Basics of version control
The initial version of your prepared document is version 0.1. If you alter it for some reason, then change the version to 0.2 and it continues as and when you modify the document. Finally, you will have the end version of the document which has been validated by the appropriate people. This will be version 1.0.
But the end version is never completely, absolutely, truly final. Someone might need a change or a formal change in the project might be raised. If the change is in small amounts, then it will become version 1.1 and if the change is a major one, then you can rename it as version 2.0.
Using version control numbers
In practical terms, some people used a table written on the document’s front page which showed the version number and the date. This is fine when you use paper documents but they aren’t used anymore. This implies that the file has to be opened to recognize the version number. Hence, it would be less beneficial.
It is always better to encompass the version number along with the file name. It helps everyone to see what version they are looking for and saves their time from looking into outdated ones.
If you maintain a standard way to name the files, then you can sort them by using the Windows Explorer folder (or any other operating system) by name. Also, the latest version has to pop out at the top.
2. Files have to be kept centrally: The next rule to maintain key documents of your project is to organize the storage.
If someone asks you for the latest report in a meeting, then it would be extremely inappropriate not to have that data stored somewhere you can access easily. These days you must have central storage to store files. The meaning of central storage for the documents of your project is that everyone has access to the same version of the files. You can protect your files using passwords or alter the permissions on the project management equipment so that no one can edit rights if you are afraid of others changing your files.
Take suggestions from your IT team. They might have solutions that you may have not used previously on your team.
Choose the favorable storage option
Your choice for the tool of project documentation may be the shared network drive to which everyone has access. It can be a document storage structure such as Microsoft Teams or SharePoint, or a cloud-based structure in which all the documents will be stored online.
Before choosing something on your own (and when you upload your project documentation into free cloud storage such as Dropbox) be sure that you seek guidance from someone regarding the safe way to share your files within your team.
Choosing the correct storage option depends on how the documents are to be archived for the longer term so that they are beneficial for future projects. Project plans, project status reports, and project charters are vital assets for lessons known.
The exception: For meetings use local storage
It is beneficial to keep a local copy compiled on your laptop timely. For example: If you want to have all the documents ready required for a Board meeting, then keep them on your desktop in a folder so that you can see everything in a single click without internet connection or navigation.
Also, you can delete the entire folder once the meeting gets over. Put copies in the folder, not the original files.
You might have to keep files like invoices for services from the contractors or other sensitive data private. Store these files away from spying eyes.
3. Circulate documents to receive a comment: Grammar and spelling errors busts your credibility. It destroys the project scope document from approval. It highlights that you haven’t consulted anyone who wants to add something worth it.
Try to consult someone other than your immediate team and project sponsor. You might not accept every suggestion to be included in the document. But you can listen to a few essential points and try to accommodate them.
Inform the relevant stakeholders before your next draft if you are not willing to accommodate changes suggested by them. You have to make them understand the purposes or else they might ask you to add their ideas back.
An approval process must be set up
The process of project documentation must contain the review phase. It should also have clarity on what is approved by whom. Getting approval for documents can be a challenge, so this helps you to realize who is accountable for each aspect.
A remark on external comments
Make sure that your document is reviewed by the external marketing team or your PR before going to the external third party.
This must be done when it comes to press releases. You cannot write press releases without consulting the corporate advisory team even though your project is exciting and keen vendors push you to get it done.
4. Keep your documents short: Keep version control information, contact information details, and distribution list on the last page. This is because readers find it boring to scroll the unwanted stuff. No one will read it except you. Dive straight away into the interesting part of your document.
Don’t annoy the readers with the content page unless your document is huge. Don’t provide signposts to those things which you can see only if it’s scrolled down or turned over.
The shorter document is received in a better way. It is difficult to make some stakeholders read a long email. For example: If you prepare a 15-page document, then it will be a loser before issuing it.
The right length depends on how long it has to be
Select the precise length for the document type. Product documentation and technical documentation probably require to be longer when compared to the project lifecycle and phases overview. During the stage of planning, you will be probably evaluating work breakdown structures, potential project risks, and more. These have to be documented completely.
In the later stages of the project lifecycle, you can outline project deliverables at a higher phase. This is because everyone has a decent understanding of their respective tasks.
The rule “keep it short” is golden. People will make exceptions for those documents which require to be long. Don’t skimp on defining the requirements of your project as it results in miscommunications in the future. The trick is “don’t include waffles”. Hence, get rid of things that aren’t required and work on making long documents short.
5. Executive summaries have to be used: An executive summary sets out the vital points reviewed in the document. It is a brief section at the beginning of the document. It is developed for the executive because they have no time to read the entire thing. They can glance through the summits from the overview and then move forward to the handfuls that they are interested in.
This summary will not be a trailer. It will not end like ” Reading to analyze fully and then choose a recommendation”. This won’t be beneficial. It’s a kind of spoiler. You have to reveal the climax. Make the reader understand the cost of the project, the solution, and your recommendation.
Keep the executive summary short. Half a page of the summary is effective. Include a table or a graph if you feel that it would be helpful but most of these summaries are bits of text. It has to be the initial element after the title and before the introduction of the document in the project document.
If you feel that your summary is too long, then ask one of your teammates to read it for you. This helps you to check whether you have covered the vital points and whether your summary is short enough.
Creating productive project documentation
However, you still should write the document. This implies that you have to start writing on a blank screen or a blank template. This thought scares some of the project managers. Hence, they might call it off.
You might not be able to prepare a perfect document at first but there will be something at least. Editing a draft is a lot simpler than writing something from blotch. So, once you are out of the initial phase, you can take input from your teammates and you can make changes in the succeeding versions.
Very soon you will become an expert at creating, storing, and circulating the documents of the project. This can be achieved through practice and by following these golden rules.