Projects can go off track (or off the rails completely) fast.
But having clear and detailed documents outlining processes and activities from start to finish make it a lot less challenging.
You need to spell out tasks and instructions clearly, though. Otherwise, your team members won’t find them useful, causing the project to go rogue.
In this guide, we’ll help you understand the importance of project documentation and share project documentation best practices to help you improve staff productivity and overall success.
What exactly is project documentation?
Project documentation refers to a set of documents and materials required to carry out a specific project. This includes the:
- Project plan.
- Project schedule.
… And all other processes that your team should follow throughout the project lifecycle.
Note that projects vary in size and complexity, so some projects might need more comprehensive documentation than others. But regardless of the scope and size, the project phases remain the same.
Here’s a breakdown of the different project phases, along with the appropriate project documentation examples:
- Project initiation: Project proposal, project charter, business case, project kick-off meeting agenda.
- Project planning: Project roadmap, work breakdown structure, project budget, project schedule, risk management plan, change management plan, software tutorials and SOPs.
- Project execution: Timesheets, change requests, change orders, project status reports, lessons learned template.
- Project monitoring and control: Resource management tracker, timesheets, project status reports.
- Project closure: Punch list, project closure template, project retrospective.
If all this feels intimidating to you, don’t worry; it doesn’t have to. Project documentation can actually be easy and — dare we say it?! — actually fun.
You can use a project documentation tool like Scribe to organize and share information at the click of a button. Ensure your team has everything they need to execute and manage the project, without losing time or your sanity.
How project documentation impacts project productivity and overall success
Project documentation is a huge investment, from the amount of time and money needed to develop documents to the required infrastructure. Naturally, you want to ensure the initiative is worth it.
The following are the key project documentation benefits illustrating how writing down and standardizing processes impact a project‘s productivity and overall success:
Clarifies important product documentation questions
Project documentation answers critical questions related to a specific project management phase, ensuring each team member is on the same page when it comes to execution and deliverables.
These questions include:
- What are the aims and goals of completing the project?
- Has a similar project been done in the past? If yes, were project documents archived for future use?
- Which standard project methodology would be most appropriate for the project?
- Which key resources are needed for the project?
- What are the project budget and timeline
- What technology, if any, can be used to boost productivity and cut down time?
- What kind of communication is needed to minimize errors?
Figuring out and communicating the answers will help you properly define the project scope, removing unnecessary delays and bottlenecks.
Ensures strategic alignment
Effective project documentation ensures you deliver the project according to established expectations and deadlines, providing real value against a business opportunity.
As a project manager, you have two primary responsibilities: getting things done and ensuring your projects fit within the broader context of your decision-makers and stakeholders’ strategic frameworks.
Detailed project documents align your project goals with your strategic business goals.
Process documentation also creates expectations in the workplace, keeping teams accountable for deadlines and targets.
If any bottlenecks occur, your team can refer to records for proof and examples to address challenges and de-escalate situations.
Facilitates independent working
Productivity bottlenecks are common when employees depend on other team members to complete tasks. A common example is a new employee waiting for their superior to help them use a software tool.
For context, employees wait an average of five hours every week for co-workers to get back to them with the information they need to do their jobs.
Lower burnout issues
Structured processes are the easiest way to help employees do their jobs faster and avoid burnout, saving up to 270 hours. This is because it provides teams with the logical steps to perform tasks and any other information they’ll need to carry out their responsibilities more confidently.
Essentially, documenting processes helps to:
- Set the pace for deliverables (project roadmap).
- Introduce accountability among team members (status reports).
- Eliminate unnecessary resource wastage (resource management document).
These documents are just a few ways project documentation identifies and fills process gaps. Your employees can use them to better plan their workflows, reducing burnout and improving productivity.
Improved quality and process control
Writing down process documents standardizes processes and guidelines to simplify quality and process control.
This ensures consistent results, helping you and your team repeatedly produce quality work and avoid sloppy mistakes. It also outlines how processes should work and what deliverables should look like to encourage knowledge sharing.
All this allows team members to identify the best course of action to achieve the desired outcome while factoring in individual preferences.
6 project documentation best practices for creating effective documents
Project documentation has several benefits, but you’ll only experience them when you know the art of writing project documentation.
Use the following tips to create successful documents that boost team engagement and yield higher ROI:
1. Have a kick-off meeting
The kick-off meeting is the first meeting concerning the project, where you’ll invite all the project stakeholders.
Use this as an opportunity to discuss primary project objectives and align the interests of the involved parties. Once everyone is properly introduced and on the same page, consider creating a working communication plan to avoid misunderstandings down the line.
2. Always create a project charter first
A project charter or a project brief is one of the most important types of project documentation.
It’s a short, concise document containing an overview of the entire project, defining its “true north,” you can use to get approval and buy-in from decision-makers, stakeholders and upper management.
And as the project brief is supposed to be a current document, you don’t have to make it super long and tedious. You can always revisit and add details later. At the initial stage, your project charter should contain the following information:
- Project name.
- Project overview.
- SMART objective (specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic, time-based).
- Project scope.
- Project deliverables.
- Success metrics.
- Budget and timeframe.
- Required resources.
This will give all involved parties a brief roadmap of the project—how to plan and execute it and what the deliverables should look like.
3. Create a document hierarchy
Establishing a document hierarchy is critical for producing effective process documentation.
While most of the benefits of product documentation we discussed above focus on improving staff collaboration and stakeholder expectation alignment, you’ll likely need documents for your customers at some point too.
But there’s a catch…
You can’t use the same documents for everyone. You need different documents for your stakeholders, employees, and customers. This process of differentiating documents into internal, external, and customer-facing is known as “creating a document hierarchy.”
It'll help you improve efficiency while delivering an excellent documentation experience that reduces errors and improves outcomes. For example, your stakeholders will get the deliverables they want, your employees can do their job faster and more effectively, and your customers will have the information they need to better use your product.
Think of it as creating the ultimate win-win situation.
4. Invest in the right tools
Automating your project documentation process is one of the best decisions you can make to save time and improve efficiency.
In a traditional setup, your team members create multiple copies of project documents to give everyone the information they need to get started. While there's no doubt documentation is useful, doing it manually is an extremely time-consuming and tedious task—one that’s prone to manual errors.
On the other hand, if you invest in project documentation software, your team members can create better documents faster and make them easily accessible to everyone.
For instance, Scribe is the fastest, easiest, and most effective way to share knowledge.
Simply click on the extension and capture your browser or desktop workflow. It'll automatically generate visual, step-by-step guides — complete with screenshots and text.
You can then share the documents with your team or customer or add them to any tool like Slack.
Super simple, right?
Besides automating documentation, you can also use Scribe to create process documentation templates for frequently used documents.
A Pages feature lets you combine multiple Scribes to create a single, hyper-detailed Scribe and centralize all project-related information in a single document.
Here’s one in action.
5. Simplify language and navigation
Nobody likes going through long walls of complicated text that has them reaching out for a dictionary in the middle of performing a task.
Not you, and definitely not your employees.
Instead, your project documentation should be drafted using simple, clear language that helps them shorten the time learning what they need to do. No unnecessary background information. No over-explanations.
Here are a few additional steps to make easily digestible project documents:
- Swap passive voice with active voice.
- Avoid jargon, acronyms or complicated business speak.
- Use lots of bullet points and short sentences.
- Make your paragraphs two-four sentences long.
You should also make the documents easily visible and accessible, preferably from the locations your employees use the most. Interestingly, 41 percent of employees find it difficult to find information as it's often saved in the wrong systems and folders.
If you don’t want your employees to become a part of this statistic, consider using Scribe to easily share your documents as a URL, embed them into your knowledge base or pin them to business apps in your organization‘s technology stack.
6. Leverage graphics and visual aids
When documenting processes, it’s important to support the content with graphics and visual aids.
Besides enhancing visual appeal, this also improves how easy your information is to understand.
How? Graphics and other visual aids simplify the docs by giving the user a practical demonstration of how to proceed.
Instead of wasting time deciphering what the information means, they'll know what needs to be done faster and return to the task at hand.
For instance, you can use screen prints and schematic diagrams when writing end-user documentation or manuals. Similarly, screenshots and annotations can be helpful to illustrate where the user should click when learning how to use a software.