A big part of every project manager’s job is building out documentation.
But under pressure, some teams still push forward with projects without scoping documents or baselining schedules.
Although it’s entirely possible to run projects without them, the risks are much higher.
It’s like trying to find hidden gold without a map. 🗺
You won’t know the best routes to take or how long your trip should last before you run out of food and clean water. You can’t be confident that all your efforts will pay off with ten times the returns either.
Fast forward a few weeks, and you’ll probably be lost or in complete chaos.
But it doesn’t have to be this way!
In this article, we dive into why project documentation is a must-have for your team and what you need to implement an engaging strategy.
What is project documentation?
Project documentation describes the process of creating resources that team members and stakeholders can use to learn about a project and how it’s being executed.
A good documentation process starts from day zero — when a project is proposed to decision-makers — until it’s completed and can be analyzed for future learnings.
The Project Management Institute breaks the project management process into five phases: initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing.
Here are a few different types of project documentation you can include at each phase of your project.
1. Initiating: Formally kicking off a project and introducing it to stakeholders, decision-makers, and team members.
- Project proposals.
- Project charters.
2. Planning: Outlines actionable tasks and quality assurance guidelines for projects to be executed within a targeted period of time.
- Project roadmap.
- Risk management tracker.
- Process tutorials.
3. Executing: A series of ongoing steps to keep project efforts on the same page.
- Status reports.
4. Controlling: Maintaining project performance and acting on feedback when progress is derailed.
- Resource management tracker.
5. Closing: Bringing a project to completion and reflecting on its execution.
- Project retrospective.
Benefits of project documentation
Sixty-eight percent of project managers say they expect project work to keep increasing.
Project documentation is a surefire way to keep busy managers sane and focused across their project portfolio.
But the impact of project documentation goes beyond relieving stress for valuable employees.
With an organized and intentional approach to project documentation (which we’ll talk about in the next section of this blog), you’ll see these benefits ripple through your workplace and its culture:
Keeps teams accountable for deadlines and targets
Only 29 percent of organizations say they mostly or always complete their projects on time. Meanwhile, less than half say they finish projects within budget.
Documentation creates an expectation in the workplace for teams to communicate and reflect on progress consistently. You’re tracking goals, staying on top of timelines and keeping team members accountable for their tasks.
If any bottlenecks occur, your team can confidently refer to records for proof and examples to de-escalate situations, address challenges and turn things around quickly.
Beyond the realm of the project, this habit of documenting and tracking progress can become a cultural norm for your organization.
You’ll create an environment where employees don’t have to worry about staying out of the loop and being kept in the dark about important decisions. This motivates employees to commit to a shared goal and work alongside you to reach it.
Employees can work independently
You’re bound to have tasks that have more dependencies than others. For example, lacking bandwidth may keep your team from moving on to a new task or project.
But you can do your part to minimize delays by removing dependencies for information and instructions.
Employees spend an average of five hours a week waiting for coworkers to get back to them with what they need to know get work done. Your docs should prevent that by centralizing all SOPs, step-by-step guides and goals in one place.
Meetings get more productive
In 2021, teams spent 140 hours in unnecessary meetings. By unnecessary, we mean the kinds of meetings that relay information you could have communicated async.
Productive meetings have an agenda so to help you achieve outcomes. Documentation supports meetings in three ways:
- To inform participants about what they’ll discuss.
- To record information they’ll discuss during the meeting.
- To remove the need for meetings altogether.
For example, you’d want to hold a meeting to show your team members your product roadmap and create a space to note feedback before finalizing and implementing things.
But your team members shouldn’t have to fill up each other’s calendars to learn about their roles and responsibilities or how to conduct different tasks.
Your documentation covers all those grounds, from outlining resources and timelines to walking teams through processes and tools.
Employees can’t do their best work when they’re burnt out.
But here’s the thing: teams save so much time just by having structured processes. A study by Asana found that this can save workplaces up to 270 hours.
Teams move faster and more confidently when they know what to do next. Your project documentation is crucial to formalizing these next steps and distributing them to all parties involved.
Here’s the breakdown of these different parts.
- Your roadmap sets a pace for deliverables.
- Your status reports introduce accountability.
- Your process tutorials save team members their time and energy.
Those are just a few ways that project documentation fills process gaps so employees know what they’re bringing to the table and how they can plan their bandwidth accordingly.
Ultimately, everything you do goes back to delivering the best experience for your customers.
The inefficiencies of your projects can (and probably will) spill into the customer experience. You might see error-filled customer interactions, a delayed product roadmap or poor service.
The last thing you want to do is have a poorly organized project impact revenue and customer retention.
Great documentation keeps your project and all its tasks in line with all the right outcomes.
That means you’re explicitly communicating what your customers and stakeholders need and how to reflect that in quality control, deadlines, tool proficiency and more.
Why is it difficult to create project documentation?
Projects can’t function without talking about expectations, resources and restraints.
Yet only 61 percent of project managers apply a defined process to their projects and include a project scope as part of planning.
On top of building strategy, communicating across teams and troubleshooting problems, there isn’t much room for project managers to spend hours recording processes.
The demand for project managers is rising. As a result, so is the workload for the role.
In 2021, project management topped the list for in-demand skills on the tech job board, Dice. Meanwhile, more than half of already-employed project managers are running two to five projects at a time — even if they feel less experienced at their role.
Here are a few things you may frustratedly say while creating your documentation — and a few ways project documentation software can help you out:
1.“It takes too long!”
It doesn’t have to take hours to create a compelling piece of documentation.
From no-code systems to automation, you can equip your tech stack with tools to simplify the more time-consuming parts of document creation.
With project management software like monday.com, you can easily use drag-and-drop editors to customize templates and build project trackers for different documentation use cases.
Populating these templates is simple. All you really need is a list of information and you’re ready to start filling in columns, assigning tasks and building workflows.
No blank slides and documents needed here.
You can also use Scribe to redefine your process for creating project tutorials and step-by-step guides.
Everyone loves seeing visuals and screenshots in their documentation, but not most don’t have the time to take a bunch of screenshots, sort them and format them.
Scribe does this for you in a matter of seconds. All you need to do is use the screen capture tool in their free Chrome Extension and you’re halfway done.
Your screen capture is parsed into a series of screenshots and brief instructions that you can customize for more relevance. Here’s the end result of something that took less than one minute to make!
2. “I don’t know where to start.”
If there’s anything your project will never run out of, it’s information.
Before you’ve even executed anything, it’s not uncommon to have pages worth of data and the occasional brain dump that strikes when it’s most uncalled for.
Having a lot of information doesn’t make it any easier to create good documents. With information stored everywhere, migrating and duplicating content isn’t a very appealing idea.
That’s why there are documentation tools that give you the flexibility to brainstorm as much as you need right within the same system.
Miro is a software that lets you create digital whiteboards and even collaborate with your team on them. You can centralize your ideation efforts within the platform, revisit them when you’re ready and bring the most important elements into your planning templates.
The same goes for Notion, a flexible note-taking app that many teams use to build project wikis and databases.
Their robust integrations make it convenient for teams to migrate files and embed elements from other documentation and project management software — yes, that includes Scribes too! 😉
3. “I wouldn’t read this.”
The worst scenario would be spending time creating documentation that nobody reads.
Sometimes, the reason for this is extremely straightforward.
They’re not reader-friendly.
Excellent documentation does a few things right:
- They’re easy to skim.
- They’re visually compelling.
- They’re convenient to save and pull up when you need them.
It’s hard to do this with PDFs. They aren’t interactive, can’t be shared as URLs and are not easy to format with visual elements or HTML blocks. Yet they make up 75 percent of documentation in workplaces today.
All the tools we’ve described so far — Scribe, monday.com, Miro and Notion — are meant for teams to design the most intuitive and user-friendly reading experience for employees.
These documentation templates make it easy to add images, call out important reminders and even communicate with your other business apps for additional functionalities.
Take a look at this comprehensive tutorial document made with Scribe Pages. It includes step-by-step instructions for multiple LinkedIn Sales Navigator processes, but it’s short and visually striking (and it took under 2 minutes to get all those instructions ready to go).
4 tips for implementing your project documentation strategy
Our pro tip for rolling out project documentation your team will actually want to read?
Have an end-to-end system for writing your project documentation, distributing it and keeping it relevant.
These principles apply to projects and teams, big and small. Use these tips as a guideline for producing documentation that yields ROI and increases engagement within your team.
1. Organize your information
Every good piece of content starts with an outline. Your project documentation should too.
Your outline is a framework that helps you prioritize the correct information and break it into sections, so they’re easy to follow. Here are a few questions that you can use to get you started with an outline:
- What is the purpose of this document?
- Who is going to read it?
- What are the main questions I’m trying to solve or clarify?
- Are there any examples that I can show to support each of those main points?
- What is the next action I want to inspire?
You can use these questions to organize your thoughts for process tutorials, proposals, Kanban boards and databases.
Here’s a great example of well-organized information. 👇 It also makes it easier for you later when you’re naming folders and databases to store your documents.
2. Write clearly & simply
People rarely want to digest a giant wall of text in the middle of a task.
Your project documentation should shorten the time employees spend learning what they need to do. Lengthy backgrounds and over-explanations aren’t necessary here.
Put these reminders on a sticky note to have by your side the next time you write project documentation 💡
- Show, don’t tell. (A picture says a thousand words!)
- Stay away from passive voice.
- No jargon, acronyms, and complicated business talk.
- Keep sentences and bullet points short.
- Use paragraphs that are one to two sentences long.
3. Prioritize search and navigation
The biggest frustration that employees have with project documentation is how difficult it is to find them.
Forty-one percent of employees say information is often saved in the wrong systems and folders. Some aren’t even sure where to start looking.
Employees aren’t going out of their way to use documentation if it’s tucked away in systems they don’t use.
Your documentation should be visible and accessible from the locations your employees use the most, like their primary workplace communication channels and the business apps in their technology stack.
The most effective way for you to do this is by using technology.
You can use project documentation software with native integrations to popular task management and communication platforms. For example, a Scribe can be shared as a URL in your Kanban boards, pinned to Slack channels or embedded into company wikis.
4. Automate, automate, automate
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again — if you aren’t automating, you’re wasting your time.
Mundane and repetitive tasks like data entry can eat up to five hours of your week. In some cases, this can even go up to 10 hours.
If not done correctly, your project management process can feel the same. There’s little strategic work in efforts like:
- Walking employees through the same processes over and over again.
- Updating documents by switching out copy and files in different places manually.
- Capturing and annotating screenshots.
- Formatting documents and templates in word documents and slides.
- Looking through email threads and Slack channels for previously sent files.
Use software to automate the creation of your step-by-step guides, build workflows for tasks and instantaneous communication, create custom templates, tabulate data and even maintain documentation with real-time editing.
How are you accelerating your project documentation efforts?
The best part about this article?
I’m giving you project documentation resources that cost you nothing to get started 😎
Create a free Scribe account to start building unlimited guides and Pages with shareable links and embeds into your favorite productivity tools.
Still not sure how Scribe works? There’s Scribe for that too!