Proper Documentation protects the Project…. and the Project Manager!

Other than planning the project, documentation is probably the most important single part of managing a project. Proper documentation protects the interests of the project’s stakeholders, ensuring that the project scope is completed and that everyone is kept properly appraised of all phases of the project’s progress.

Protecting Your Project

Managing a project requires extensive communication. The project manager is the communications nexus for everyone involved in the project. Not only do the stakeholders need to be kept informed of the project status, but information needs to flow through the project management office to reach all affected team members. The only way to ensure that this information reaches the necessary team members and that there is a record of it is through timely, accurate and complete documentation.

More than anything, project documentation needs to keep track of changes. Every project has changes along the way, things which are not included in the original plans and scope, but have to be done in order for the project to be successful. Some of these changes are requested by stakeholders, but the majority of them are originated by contractors or project team members, adding elements to the project which were not foreseen.

People tend to rely on their memories for what was said and what happened on the project; unfortunately, we can’t even depend on two people’s memory to remember the same thing the same way. Documentation eliminates the dependence on faulty human memories, committing things to paper, so that we can have a record that everyone can agree on.

Protecting Yourself

One thing that isn’t usually mentioned about the importance of project documentation is the idea of protecting yourself as the project manager. Many people working on the project try to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, especially their own failures. The tendency is to shift the blame to the highest target of opportunity… and that’s usually the project manager. Proper documentation not only protects the project’s stakeholders, but it also protects you as the project manager from false accusations.

Unfortunately, many times this results in internal complaints or even external lawsuits to settle the matter. The courts always want to see documentation. People’s personal testimonies are universally recognized by the courts as being fallible, whereas documents are trusted. In such cases, a simple email, letter or Minutes Of Meetings carry much more weight than anything said as testimony. Having a weight of documentation on your side, such as schedules, emails, letters, MOMs, advisory bulletins, blueprints, photographs and checklists makes your case secure. In a civil case (rather than a criminal case) your documents are not “discoverable” by the opposing party until you are actually in court. That prevents the opposing party from preparing documentation to counter yours. Unless the opposing party can overcome your documentation with documentation of their own, there is no way that they can beat your case.

When accusations are made, it is only your documentation that protects you. Without it, everything boils down to your word against somebody else’s. With it, it’s their word against your documentation. Whether in the eyes of a manager or the eyes of a court, your documentation gives you the advantage you need in order to win your case. As a Project Management Professional you should place proper emphasis on documenting your projects.