Have you ever thought about why projects fail?
Inadequate project planning, scope creep, inadequate communication… there can be all kinds of reasons.
Interestingly, most of these issues often stem from a common contributing factor: poor project documentation.
Project documentation is a major undertaking that’s both time- and effort-consuming. But no matter how tedious, you can’t deny the importance of project documentation for a project’s success.
In this article, we’ll outline the key project documentation challenges and discuss solutions to help you write and manage your organization’s project documents.
What project documentation means
Project documentation involves implementing a streamlined, uniform process for producing key documents like project budget, project plan, and project schedule throughout a project's lifecycle to successfully execute it from start to finish.
Why do you need project documentation? No matter how well your plan, what you do, or how hard you try, you can never not benefit from project documentation.
Here are some key project documentation benefits you can expect when writing down and standardizing your processes:
- Helps track project tasks and progress.
- Improve communication between your team and stakeholders and decision-makers.
- Defines and assigns responsibilities with greater accuracy.
- Enhances staff member productivity by giving them everything they need to perform tasks more effectively.
- Describes project methodologies and techniques to promote consistency in deliverables.
- Removes the risk of information loss and promotes easy accessibility.
- Improves deliverable quality and project success rate.
A common project documentation example is an SOP. Here’s one made using Scribe, an effortless process documentation tool that lets you capture and share workflows in seconds — by simply capturing your screen to create an instant step-by-step guide.
Notice how each step has supportive text and screenshots with visual cues to help the user navigate the process.
Amazing, isn't it?
8 project documentation management challenges you need to know
When writing project documentation, you’ll likely see issues. But it's when you leave them unmanaged, that they snowball into bigger problems that bring your project down.
Before managing or removing these issues, you need to actually know them.
The following list details some of the most common project documentation challenges you’ll likely face:
1. Unauthorized content changes
Projects with multiple stakeholders face a significant risk of unauthorized editing in documents — sometimes even the entire thing.
To make matters worse, if a document has multiple change options, (like different project types or different standards for different locations), things can get easily messed up when copying, pasting or deleting info.
In such cases, a process documentation tool with version control can manage different drafts and versions of a document or record by providing an audit trail for revision and updates.
Use it to track a series of draft documents before you get your final version.
Additionally, don’t grant editing permissions to everyone on the team. Small measures like these will ensure you didn’t damage the doc’s integrity.
2. Lack of accessibility
The whole point of process documentation is to provide users with the necessary information they need… when they need it. You’re trying to promote efficiency and prevent delays.
That only works if everyone’s on the same page (literally). As a project manager, you also have to give team members and stakeholders access to reports concerning project milestones, expenses and schedules to maintain transparency.
Ensuring document accessibility isn’t easy though, especially if you use physical paperwork.
Not only will you have to dig through a bunch of complicated documents, but you’ll need to forward each one to people who need access.
Doesn’t necessarily sound like a blast, right?
Luckily, modern technology like cloud-based document repositories and process documentation tools have alleviated these issues.
They let you centralize project documents in a singular source while providing quick and easy access as (and when) needed.
3. Unauthorized information access and leakage
Another common project documentation challenge is maintaining document security.
While managed documents are highly traceable and allow you to tag them to enable auto-alerts, you still need to take several precautions.
For one, you don’t want any sensitive information or assets leaking out due to negligence or foul play.
You need to also ensure you control doc access at the folder or document level for every individual and group.
Another important factor here is a comprehensive audit trail that shows you who viewed a document, when they accessed and how they may have modified it.
4. Failure to ensure regulatory compliance
Let’s face it: compliance requirements for certain (sensitive) documents can be increasingly complex. Non-conformance is not an option if you want to avoid paying hefty fines, revoked licenses, and in some cases, even criminal liability.
So what should you do?
The first step here is to know and understand which regulations apply to your business. Some of the most common ones are Sarbanes Oxley and HIPAA that mandate strict security and privacy guidelines.
Next, identify tools that comply with the applicable regulations. The good news is that you’ll find several document management systems and project documentation software that protect user property following privacy and security regulations.
5. Managing revisions
In some projects (think: construction), changes happen frequently because of changing variables, like weather conditions and price fluctuations. You see tons of adjustments or revisions in the scope of work.
The issue here is keeping all documents up to date and making sure they reflect the new changes. And it’s not easy.
If your projects use physical paperwork, revisions become even more taxing. You'll have to manually check each project document to ensure your team members are using up-to-date documents to avoid time-consuming and costly errors.
Luckily, you can avoid this unnecessary hard work by using applications that reflect document updates in real time and can synchronize them with all the involved parties.
For example, when you create process docs with Scribe, you make universal updates. You'll always have the best version regardless of where you share or embed that guide.
6. Incorrect document template usage
Incorrect and outdated templates are other problems that occur when you have several copies of a template floating around.
Confusion prevails as the members don’t know which document version to use. This results in a project being based upon outdated or incorrect terms, which leads to misunderstandings and loss of credibility.
In such cases, using a cloud-based centralized solution to manage documents is highly recommended. It'll help you maintain a single approved version of a template at all times.
7. Repeated document modifications
It’s no secret that managing field-based projects is difficult—and as you would expect, their documentation is no different.
The complexity and size of the project determine the number of plans, documents, and records needed, and managers and supervisors on the field require access to (nearly) all of them at random times.
This makes tracking and modifying the documents so that every team member is in the loop about the project harder amidst the chaos.
If you have a manual paperwork setup, you’ll have to copy and send every modification done on the field to the relevant stakeholders and team members, which is both a time-and effort-consuming initiative.
Implementing cloud-based documentation software is the more convenient alternative here. It lets you (and your team members) easily modify documents on the fly and synchronize changes with other document users instantaneously, eliminating common modification challenges.
8. Document inconsistency problems
Ever heard of "information chaos"?
Project managers fail to impose consist rules for document efforts like:
… and so on.
This goes on to create inconsistencies in sales, management and operations that hurt your business over time.
Let’s explain — suppose the deliverables agreed upon by the stakeholders during a project meeting aren’t documented correctly in the project charter.
The result? Your team members fail to miss the mark. These kinds of problems burn stakeholder goodwill and damage your company's reputation.
Address these concerns by implementing a well-defined project documentation plan in every department. You’ll impose consistency and accuracy in how everyone involved creates and manages project documents.
How can you solve common project documentation challenges?
Project documentation challenges suck. There’s no doubt about it — but it all boils down to what you’re willing to do about them.
Here are some project documentation best practices to help you solve and remove common problems related to documenting processes.
Make documents accessible and keep everyone informed
Provide team members easy access to all documents to keep them informed and on schedule. This includes the flexibility to view project records and information via desktop, mobile phone and tablet.
You basically want an optimized central location of information that each team member can open and use, regardless of their location, so everyone is on the same page (again… literally). Have a system in place to notify all parties when someone makes changes.
Most project documentation software tools have features that automatically send notifications about project document changes to the mobile phones, tablets or computers of the relevant parties.
Prioritize clarity and relevance when prepping & updating project documentation
You’ve probably come across seemingly never-ending project documents destined to be dumped in an archived folder.
If you don’t want your project docs to suffer the same fate, you need to keep them concise and relevant. This includes writing from the intended user’s perspective so that they see the documents as a great reference point when performing tasks.
Relevance also extends to the info being up-to-date. You’ll likely have tons of things on your plate, making it difficult to keep track of documentation updates. We recommend setting regular reminders to update project documents so they stay relevant and accurate as the project progresses.
Pick the right project documentation tools
Throughout the article, we’ve emphasized the importance of investing in the right technology to simplify and streamline process documentation.
With the right tool in your arsenal, you can easily create the necessary documents for team members, share them with all parties, and manage them to ensure accuracy as time passes.
While there are several software to consider, we can’t recommend Scribe enough — and no, this isn’t just us tooting our own horn.
Available as a browser extension and desktop app, use Scribe to turn your processes into documentation… instantly. Scribe captures your screen to auto-generate a beautifully done step-by-step guide with screenshots and text.
What’s more, the whole thing is done at lightning speed, helping you save those 20 minutes telling Nancy in the next cubicle how to do that task — again.
If you want your process documentation to be more detailed, use Scribe Pages to combine multiple Scribes with video, images and more. Then centralize all project-related information in a single document. Once your custom Scribe is ready, share it instantly as a PDF document or URL link — or embed it in wikis and existing tools.
Sounds good? Get started with Scribe for free today.