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Project managers know the importance of project documentation. Project documents must be accurate and constantly updated to keep current with the project. Creating and managing project documentation throughout the project life cycle is critical for project success, but where to start?
This guide defines what project documentation is and why it’s important in addition to outlining the top 10 project documents that you should always create to plan and execute your projects.
What Is Project Documentation?
The term project documentation refers to the project management documents that are created throughout the project life cycle. These documents, such as the project plan, project schedule or project budget, define activities, procedures and guidelines that the project team should follow.
Project documentation has several purposes such as project planning, cost management or risk management. In addition, there are certain project documents that must be created at a specific project phase as they set the stage for the next step. For example, the project management plan must be created before the project execution phase can begin.
Project management software can help you organize and share information that is crucial to the success of your project. ProjectManager is work management software that has unlimited file storage and makes it easy to share product documentation with your team and stakeholders. All of its multiple project views share one source of information to keep everyone on the same page. Get started for free.
Let’s take a look at which project documents should be created at each project phase.
Project Documentation by Project Phase
Projects vary in size and complexity and some require more comprehensive project documentation than others. Here’s an overview of some of the project documents that are usually created throughout the project life cycle.
- Project Initiation: Project charter, business case, project kickoff meeting agenda
- Project Planning: Project management plan, work breakdown structure, project budget, project schedule, change management plan, scope management plan, risk management plan
- Project Execution: Project status report, lessons learned template, timesheets, change requests, change orders
- Project Monitoring and Control: Project status report, lessons learned template, timesheets
- Project Closure: Project closure template, punch list
Now that you have an idea of the right project documentation for each phase of your project life cycle, let’s dive into some critical project management documents.
Top 10 Project Documents to Include in Your Project Documentation
Here’s a brief description of the important project documents and a corresponding project management template for each of them. Don’t forget to check our library of free project management templates where you’ll find dozens of templates to build your project documentation.
1. Project Plan
The project plan is the most comprehensive of all project management documents because it compiles the project documents that are created during the project planning phase. For example, your project plan should include your project budget and your project schedule.
2. Project Charter
The project charter is written during the project initiation phase and it sets the stage for the project plan. Project managers use project charters to provide a quick overview of the project to stakeholders, sponsors and clients.
3. Business Case
Just like the project charter, a business case is a document that’s created during the initiation phase to convince project stakeholders of the project’s value by explaining the potential benefits it could have for their organization.
4. Project Communication Plan
A communication plan sets all the guidelines for communication among team members and project stakeholders. It defines the communication channels to be used, the communication schedule and roles and responsibilities among other details to streamline the communication process throughout the project life cycle.
5. Risk Register
This document allows you to register all potential project risks and includes a brief description of their potential impact and likelihood. A risk register is an important project document as it provides important information for your risk management plan that contains all risk management documents, strategies and guidelines.
6. Scope Statement
A scope statement defines the activities that will be executed to complete a project. It’s used by project managers to let stakeholders know what will be done and what won’t be done so that expectations are clear from the beginning. It’s part of the scope management plan, a comprehensive document that explains the procedures and guidelines related to the project scope.
7. Project Budget
The project budget is a critical project management document. To create one, you’ll need to estimate your project costs, which include labor, materials, equipment and anything that’s needed to execute the project.
8. Project Schedule
At a basic level, the project schedule defines the timeline for the execution of all project tasks. It can also include more details such as the resources needed for each task, who’s responsible for it, the float or slack your project has and the critical path. ProjectManager’s Gantt chart is the perfect tool for creating a detailed project schedule.
9. Project Status Report
Project status reports are a must-have project management tool because they allow you to check the health of your project at any point in time and share data with stakeholders to keep them updated. Status reports are brief and include the most relevant information only.
10. Project Closure Template
It’s always necessary to create project documentation at the end of the project closure phase. That’s because project managers need to close contracts, create a “lessons learned” document and get formal approval from stakeholders among other important tasks. All of this must be documented so that nothing falls through the cracks.
11. Project Proposal Template
A project proposal is a project management document that provides a quick overview of the key areas of a project. Its main purpose is to convince potential stakeholders of the value of the project during the initiation phase. It should be a persuasive document that highlights the main benefits, goals and requirements.
12. Project Brief Template
A project brief is a summarized version of your project plan, geared towards an audience such as cross-functional teams or stakeholders who don’t need to dive into all the details of a project management plan but still need to have an understanding of the project goals, budget, roles & responsibilities among other key aspects.
13. Requirements Gathering Template
Project requirements are the goals and specifications that are expected from a project to make sure all stakeholders are satisfied. Our free requirements gathering template will help you document all your project requirements.
14. Project Overview Template
A project overview is a 1-page document that outlines the most critical aspects of a project such as its timeline, milestones, budget, status and the team members’ roles & responsibilities.
15. Team Charter Template
A team charter is a project management document that shows the roles, responsibilities, deliverables and resources of a project team. It helps project managers understand the workload and objectives of each team member for better resource planning.
What’s Worth Documenting
No matter your organization’s structure, the ability to record and document all aspects of a project is vital to being a successful project manager. Multiple reports, charts, graphs, documents, change requests and status updates need to be maintained throughout the project life cycle, and documentation works to stitch the disparate pieces of a project together and bring it to a successful finish.
However, your time is limited, and so is patience in most organizations for tedious paperwork. How can you maintain efficiency and effectively document the project? Consider the following to determine what’s worth documenting:
- Client-Related Everything – Imagine that a client suddenly questions a decision that was made months ago. The client says that they chose one direction but your company decided to go down another path during implementation. Clear documentation on client meetings, including notes with dates, times and attendees helps resolve misunderstandings.
- Legal Dictates – For certain projects, legal teams are required to review documentation during the project. For public projects, there might be oversight and review processes that analyze a project after its completion. Know the documentation requirements your legal team needs before your project begins. Playing catch-up is risky in this kind of environment.
- The Right Amount of Process – While you don’t want to get lost with documenting so much of the plan and process that you’re not actually processing, you do want some definition around the project plan and goals. Let your organizational structure guide how many processes to document. For example, trying to operate process-free on a project that requires legal documentation will only get your project in trouble. When in doubt, the best approach is to document.
- Changes to the Project – Ongoing project updates are essential to document especially as project goals shift. Ideally, you’ll have a real-time online project management tool so your resources and task changes are scheduled live and issues are captured as they occur. However, larger impacts to the project plan should be added to project documentation in a version-controlled manner.
Project Documentation Best Practices
So what are the best strategies you should use to keep your documentation effective, efficient and timely? To align your documentation according to best practices you should:
- Take the Time – Use your calendar! Many people think that calendars are only for scheduling meetings. It’s not. Use it to schedule 2-3 hour blocks of uninterrupted time to assemble an essential document. Instead of taking calls or conversing with a coworker, take the time to get in the zone of writing. With focused time and attention, you’ll be able to make significant progress. Likewise, schedule 10-15 minute blocks in your calendar each week to review and update documentation.
- Have the Right Level of Detail – Putting documentation together for engineers is different from documents you present to executives. Engineers need details you can provide while executives don’t have time to be bogged down with details. They just want bullet points, the bottom line and the next steps. It’s up to you to determine the right level of documentation for the right audience.
- Use Smart Storage – Your documentation needs to be easy to locate. Documentation is useless if it’s buried under a rock where nobody can find it. This includes making sure that the infrastructure is in place to access the documentation online and that the folder structure and hierarchy are easy and intuitive to understand.
- Share with Others – Most people hate putting documentation together but love it when it’s packaged up for them. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that people actually read the documentation! Use your online project management software to store your documents online with the project, ideally in a collaborative, secure environment.
- Version Control and Up-to-Date – Keeping project documentation current and updated is challenging. It’s easy to get to the point of the initial version, but it’s painful to go back and update documentation and maintain version control. The biggest help is the document repository infrastructure you have in place. Automatic version control allows you to manage this process and the consumers of your documentation always trust that they have the latest version.
How ProjectManager Helps With Project Documentation
ProjectManager is work and project software that connects hybrid teams and fosters collaboration. All project documents can be stored on the tool and everyone who needs access to documents will have it. You can create project plans and so much more, making ProjectManager the only software you need for project success.
Make Project Plans on Interactive Gantt Charts
One of the most important project documents is your project plan. You can make and share this with our Gantt chart, which organizes all your tasks, links dependencies and plots milestones to help you stay on schedule. It even filters for the critical path. Our online Gantt charts deliver real-time data and are easy to share so everyone is always working from the most current data.
Monitor Your Project With Real-Time Dashboards
Your project documentation only sets the stage for the execution of your project. To keep to those plans, you need to have a way to monitor progress and performance in real time. Our live dashboard automatically collects, calculates and delivers real-time metrics for time, workload and more. Unlike other tools, there’s no setup necessary. You see what’s happening as the project unfolds.
Go Deeper Into the Data With One-Click Reporting
When a high-level view isn’t enough, you can generate project reports with a keystroke. Get more information on your costs, progress and more. All reports can be filtered to show only the data you want to see. You can attach reports to stakeholder emails or print them out for presentations.
ProjectManager is a flexible tool that allows you to update your project documentation as needed as projects change. Everyone is updated with email notifications or in-app alerts so there’s never any confusion about what’s expected. Use a tool that manages your project plan, resources, cost and team while storing all the project documentation you have to deliver success.
Sure, documentation can be the bane of your project, but you need it. There are tools that can help you do it easier, better and faster. The online software suite from ProjectManager is a great collaborative tool to create and store your project documentation for easier access and document sharing with your team. Get started for free.