As a project manager, you’ve probably wondered if the effort of creating detailed documents is worth it. You already have a lot on your plate, so why waste time adding another herculean task, right?
That’s where you’re wrong.
Project documentation is one of the more vital parts of project management. Comprehensive documentation might just be the difference between a project’s success and failure.
Case in point — did you know companies waste about 12 percent of their resources if they don’t have solid project documentation?
While there are many project documentation benefits, the most important is how it helps you and your team members execute each project smoothly from start to finish — with few or no errors.
Keep reading as we take a deeper look at the other benefits and outline handy best practices to help you create effective documents effortlessly!
Project documentation definition
Project documentation is a broad term for describing detailed documents containing the necessary information to successfully execute a project.
These project management documents include the project plan, schedule and budget to properly define activities and guidelines the user must follow throughout the project lifecycle.
7 types of project documentation
Here’s the deal: you won’t find a single project documentation example that meets all your needs. Instead, you should pick a template based on your project management phase and the project size.
Let’s take a look.
Phase 1: Project initiation
The process documentation in this phase formally acknowledges a project’s commencement to key stakeholders, decision-makers, and team members.
1. Project proposal
This is a 2-5 page document that comprises information addressing key questions surrounding the project — what are the goals of the project, why are they important and how will you achieve them?
Keeping this in mind, your project proposal should cover the following info:
- An executive summary of the project.
- Project's background explaining what you are trying to achieve.
- A rundown of your plan to achieve your goals through the project.
- Project goals and deliverables.
- Proposed budget.
2. Project charter
A project charter is a short formal document describing your project in its entirety. It validates the project to stakeholders by aligning expectations on investment and sources.
It generally covers high-level information, including:
- Project objectives.
Here’s an example of a project charter we made with Scribe Pages. Get this template here.
Phase 2: Project planning
This project management phase focuses on helping teams achieve project goals through a series of milestones and guides.
3. Project roadmap
A project roadmap gives you a high-level overview of the project’s milestones, deliverables, resources and objectives against a fixed timeline.
It’s an agile document that’s regularly updated to keep everyone up-to-date with different phases.
4. Software tutorials and standard operating procedures
Software tutorials and standard operating procedures (SOP) are important project management documents that help the user understand how to use a tool or do a task.
You can embed them throughout your document for easy access to prevent any delays.
Here’s an example of an SOP created using Scribe.
Scribe top tip: Scribe is a process documentation tool that captures your browser or desktop workflow to make visual, step-by-step guides with screenshots and text. It’s really simple to use (plus you can get started for free.)
Phase 3: Project execution
This project management phase involves executing the plan and ensuring all team members are on the same page.
5. Status reports
Status reports are created to report on the project’s progress against the project roadmap and identify potential roadblocks. Typically, it covers the following information:
- Completed work.
- Upcoming work.
Phase 4: Project control
This project management staff monitors progress, taking action when necessary to ensure the project is completed on time.
6. Resource management
Resource management is a document that helps the members keep track of project-related resources, including the budget, time spent and team band Waze. This document is also used for managing cash flow and distributing work equally to avoid burnout.
Phase 5: Project closing
This project management step involves bringing the project to completion and formally recording project performance for future reference.
7. Project retrospective
Project managers often use the project retrospective document to evaluate the project — what went well, what could’ve been better and what you learned. It serves as a point of reference when doing future projects.
Why project documentation is so important: key benefits
Project documentation is one of those things that will help your team move forward with little to no involvement from you.
Designed to help the user perform processes and make decisions, these records are undoubtedly a handy resource.
Here are additional project documentation benefits that further illustrate why creating documentation should be your top priority:
Creates a single source of truth
Did you know the average employee spends about 2.5 hours a day (for context, that's nearly 30 percent of their workday) looking for information they need?
Process documentation involves collecting all the important information concerning a project, task, or team — and storing it in a centralized, organized space. This way, employees don’t have to dig around looking for information and can focus on the task at hand.
Additionally, writing down your processes also helps to identify bloated workflows and bottlenecks to further streamline your processes and maximize outcomes.
All this ultimately saves a lot of time and energy that would otherwise be wasted trying to track down details, credentials, and other information.
Facilitates quality & process control
While there’s more than one way to get things done, standardized processes help with quality control and ensure consistent results. You need both to prevent sloppy or uninformed behavior on repeatable work.
Process documentation encourages knowledge sharing by outlining how processes work and what deliverables look like. With these documents in hand, your team members can easily stay consistent while still having enough wiggle room to get creative when working on a project.
Simplifies hiring & onboarding
You may want to keep your team with you forever, but bringing new people into the fold is inevitable.
When you onboard new team members, you want to get them up to speed quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, only 12 percent of employees agree their organization does a good job onboarding.
If you prioritize documentation, you can give your new team members resources that educate and empower them to do their best work.
Helpful guides, work instructions and job aids can help familiarize new hires with a new work environment and enable them to figure things out on their own.
Another significant project documentation benefit is that you’re not doing the same thing again and again (and again).
It allows a new catalog of past projects. You can share decisions and organize research so you never have to reinvent the wheel again.
Think about it: why should you start from scratch when you can build what’s already there?
Writing down processes lets you (and your team) refer to past work and learn from it instead of repeating it to achieve the same or similar results.
Faster, less error-prone workflows
Follow process documentation best practices for well-organized documents that include important reminders and omit unnecessary information.
This makes it much more actionable for employees, ensuring they know exactly how to proceed — even when skimming.
Not only can they find the required information faster, but they’re way less likely to commit errors.
5 tips to create effective project documents
Ready to write process documentation of your own?
We thought so.
Remember to keep the following best practices in mind to create effective documents:
1. Plan your documents in advance
Project documentation strives to standardize projects and processes, creating a single source of truth. If you don’t start working out the nicks at the right time, you’ll be left working without clear directions.
Decide a timeline and start collecting all the necessary information you need to create comprehensive documents. Ideally, you should start all this a few days before the project kickoff.
Ensure to record stakeholder discussions and include them in your project proposal and project charter to avoid misunderstandings down the line.
2. Use a process documentation tool
Process documentation can make your life a lot easier by letting you create reader-friendly documents at the touch of a button. The only catch is choosing a tool that adequately caters to your unique requirements.
Luckily, Scribe can effortlessly tackle common project document challenges, letting you automate your documentation process and create engaging and customizable step-by-step guides in seconds.
You can also use Scribe’s Pages to combine multiple Scribes and add descriptions, videos, images and more to create elaborate documentation for your team.
Use clear language & concise sentences
Make your docs specific without being verbose. For example, use “press CTRL + R to refresh your screen” instead of something vague like “hit refresh.“ You can also add screenshots or images to cut down on unnecessary words when needed.
- Choose words carefully, keeping them in line with your targeted user’s preferences and needs. Does this person understand jargon?
- Can you make sense of abbreviations, or should you expand them?
- What should the readability look like?
Make your documents accessible
What’s the use of putting in all the work if your team can’t find the documents they need?
If your process documents aren’t accessible, they’ll never become a natural part of the workflow. To avoid this, ensure to store them in a centralized location — add it to your knowledge base or share the URL with your team — so everyone knows where to look.
Have an audit and maintenance plan
Each one of your project documents should be up-to-date at all times.
Build a workflow to constantly audit and update records that involve stakeholder interviews and understanding your documents’ accuracy and utility.
You can also ask your team members for feedback to find areas of improvement.
If there’s a more efficient way of doing a step, replace the current step with that. If a guideline is unclear, rewrite it. When making changes, ensure your newly revised documents align with your project goals.
Process documentation has never been easier
Process documentation has always been the most effective way to establish and align expectations — and now, creating them has never been easier.
Use innovative project documentation tools like Scribe to capture process workflows that answer the “how do I…“ question without losing time.
After all, why complicate simple things?