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Writing Effective Project Documentation

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Writing documentation for projects can be a daunting task. The documentation accompanying any project is crucial to its success, so it’s important to do it correctly the first time. Thorough documentation in every project should be an essential part of any Project Manager’s arsenal of tools.

Documentation may seem daunting, but it’s not too difficult. A proper documentation’s purpose is to provide an outline for the project. From dates to technical specifications, to requirements and dependencies, it should all be present. You want someone totally uninvolved with the project to be able to look at the document and have an idea of exactly what your project is, who is involved and what other moving pieces there are.

While it’s important to have thorough documentation, it also has to be understandable to other people. Even those who aren’t as technical as you, or who aren’t as much of experts in your field, someone who reads this should have an understanding of how the project is structured. So you also want the documentation to be simple enough for other people to understand.

Along with keeping the language and content simple, it’s also a good idea to try to only provide the necessary information. Having a lot of unneeded or excessive data can just confuse people, and render the project document useless. Writing good project documentation takes time and practice, and you don’t want it to take away all too much time that you could spend working on the actual project.

The amount of documentation you need really depends on the size and scope of your project. Different projects require varying amounts of information. Just because you see many different documents you could use, doesn’t mean you have to use all of them. The main types of projects are:

  • Smaller Projects that last 3-6 months
  • Medium Sized Projects that usually last around a year
  • Larger Projects, with many team members that can last years

Project Documentation for Small Projects

Each of these projects calls for different amounts of documentation. Obviously a smaller project requires less than a larger one. Small projects generally require a:

  • Project Plan
  • Deployment Plan
  • Project Schedule
  • Project Brief
  • Issue List
  • Departments who were involved in the project, as well as contact information of key personnel

Project Documentation for Medium-Sized Projects

Medium sized projects are a bit more complex as they may take a lot more time, and a lot more people are involved. This usually equates to more documents and also more time invested into writing it. The documents typically need for a medium project are:

  • An Issue List
  • A Project Brief
  • A Project Schedule
  • A Project Plan
  • A Deployment Plan
  • Technical Specifications
  • A Test Plan
  • A Question and Answer Plan
  • As well as any other documents you think are necessary

Project Documentation for Large-Sized Projects

Because large projects can take so much time, there is much more that could change as time goes on about your project. So having an incredibly thorough document is crucial. New people may come along and you will need that to help them understand what they are dong. Also, if the project drastically changes, you may need to reference your notes to see what has to be modifed. You will also need to update documents with any changes that occur. With these larger projects, having great documentation is crucial. Documents that you really must have for large projects include:

  • A Project Brief
  • An Issue List
  • A Project Schedule
  • A Project Plan
  • A Deployment Plan
  • Technical Specifications
  • A Test Plan
  • A Question and Answer Plan
  • A Change Log
  • A Communications Plan

If you are new to a project that is already underway, it can be daunting. But you need to address the documentation that is already in place, and if you feel improvement is necessary then address that right away. If you can’t really grasp everything that needs to be done from the documentation, you may need to consult heavily with other people working on the project or with your superiors to get better clarity. Even though you didn’t start this project, all the necessary documents still need to be in place to go along with the finished product.

Proper documentation has to be in place in order for a project to be successful. If it isn’t in place, then you will find yourself unorganized and confused at some point in your project. You need to get documentation started at the very beginning, and keep updating it as the project moves forward, pivoting when necessary.

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Lunch and Learn: Project Documentation

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