9 Documentation Mistakes Project Teams Make

Documentation is a huge part of project management. Everything from background reading to comparing old and new contracts happens with the material your PMO has already gathered. But project management professionals have a lot going on, and sometimes their documentation practices get sloppy. See if your team is making any of these 9 documentation mistakes.

1 – Documentation isn’t vetted before being sent offsite. When workloads are hectic, the first inclination of many project teams is to throw everything and the kitchen sink into several boxes and archive it. That means out-of-date versions of important documents are probably lurking in a box somewhere, just waiting to confuse someone later.

2 – Background materials aren’t readily available. PMPs frequently need to reference documentation from previous projects. When hard copies are sent offsite for archival, thorough records aren’t always kept of where the different types of documents are located. Recalling specific materials becomes cumbersome and time consuming.

3 – Only one person understands the filing system. It makes sense that many PMOs designate an administrator or other point person to oversee filing, electronic document storage, archival, and retrieval tasks. But if that’s the only person who knows how to find anything, Murphy’s Law says they’ll be out of the office when someone needs to review an old budget spreadsheet.

4 – Electronic copies aren’t treated as part of the official project record. Digital documents are easier to distribute and store than their paper brethren. Unfortunately, that sometimes means they’re treated more casually than hard copies. Changes made to digital documents aren’t always captured in the project’s master files during the wrap-up phase and electronic records often languish rather than being deleted according to the organization’s records retention schedule.

5 – Security isn’t taken seriously. With very few exceptions, there is likely at least some amount of sensitive data stored in your PMO’s project files. That confidential information can range from internal communications outlining strategic market research to hiring records to classified vendor pricing. Sensitive paper documentation too often sits in unlocked file cabinets, and electronic documents aren’t always protected by a password.

6 – Things are scattered. Electronic files live on the computers of the various people who created them. Some paper records are kept in file cabinets within the PMO area but budget documents are stored in the Accounting department. Contracts are retained by Legal. Sound familiar? This usually leaves multiple versions of one document in circulation, and important records are sometimes overlooked when items are eventually archived.

7 – The information retention schedule is ignored. Throwing a document away (or deleting it, now that most of what we do is digital) gives some people the willies. This leads PMOs to determine that nearly everything their team creates warrants an exemption from the organization’s formal document retention schedule. The group ends up with far more material than they really need and the organization could potentially face legal and other liabilities if out-of-date documents come back to haunt them.

8 – Formats are inconsistent. Today’s PMPs are using more than a few methods to access and create documents—desktop computers, tablets, smartphones, web interfaces, and old fashioned paper to name just a few. But can everyone read that spreadsheet on their phone? Does the web portal render older drawings and schematics accurately? Incompatible formats typically lead to multiple versions of the same document, increasing the chances for errors and miscommunication later.

9 – Information is missed. It’s that old classic tale: Everyone thinks someone else will record important data or update an existing file, but ultimately no one does it. This leaves the team’s documentation sorely lacking, likely causing problems (and inefficiencies) later.

Project management documentation

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance

Control Your Project’s Reality

The reality of a project—its objectives, its hurdles—don’t always match the perception that stakeholders have in their minds. When a project management professional discovers a discrepancy between how things really are and how people assume them to be, it’s time to do some proactive damage control that often goes beyond simply resetting expectations.

First, see if you can determine where the incorrect information came from initially. There’s a chance that the data is actually accurate, but was passed through inappropriate channels, such as a vendor providing someone other than their primary contact person with updated lead times, etc. This will help you determine if the information floating around is indeed incorrect, or if it’s just old and needs to be refreshed.

Next, send accurate (or perhaps updated) information to everyone involved in the project. This includes not only stakeholders—end along with champions, funders, and even the executive team if it makes sense—but also anyone in your PMO who may have the project on their  radar. This will alert folks to the fact that erroneous data is floating around, so they can be on the lookout for it. It also ensures that everyone with the potential to provide information to stakeholders is working off the latest approved data.


Finally, reinforce where information should enter your PMO, and who is responsible for passing it on to stakeholders. If updated data bypassed your team and was given directly to stakeholders, either by others in your organization or by business partners, you will likely need to let folks know from whom they should expect to receive new data points. If a vendor released information to end users or others outside your PMO, it’s time to re-educate them that all data is to go through a specific point person on your team.

PMAlliance Project Management Training

Data Gathering Mistakes Your PMO Might Be Making

Project professionals need to compile data sets and benchmarking information for many reasons—planning, troubleshooting, even satisfying government reporting requirements—but how that data is treated could undermine even the most ambitious efforts. Keep reading to see if your PMO is making any of these common mistakes.

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Documentation Tips: Onsite vs. Offsite Archival

Once your project is in the wrap-up phase, it’s time to decide where your records will be stored—onsite or offsite. We’ve put together some pros, cons, and things to consider for each option to help you determine the solution that’s right for you. And remember that documentation doesn’t have to live in paper form; you should also be deciding where and how you’ll store electronic records, too.

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Project documentation proliferates at a startling pace. Before you know it, your current project’s files are stuffed, you have a stack of documentation boxes to prepare for storage, or you’re stuck sifting through thick folders from past projects in search of important information.

Before the amount of documentation flowing amongst team members and stakeholders becomes overwhelming, make an effort to rein it in with some thoughtful planning and ruthless editing. Consider employing the following guidelines to help trim your documents to a more manageable level, and enjoy increased efficiency now and later.

#1 – Clear

When composing documents, state the information you want to convey as plainly and simply as possible. If you’re announcing bad news, don’t dress it up – just say it. Changes to the team’s structure, schedule modifications, budget issues, updated stakeholder expectations and a host of other topics can be sensitive and uncomfortable, but resist the urge to be vague or evasive. Everyone involved with your projects needs to clearly understand the lay of the land, even if it isn’t pleasant. If you’re still waiting for additional information or if data is pending, plainly delineate what you know and what you don’t. Ensuring your team is operating under a common set of information is a critical concern.

#2 – Concise

The simplest way to remember this rule is this: say what you need to say, and then stop. But beware, it’s often harder than it sounds. With the exception of timelines, budgets and a few other items, you shouldn’t be rehashing old news. If information has already been disseminated, strongly consider if it needs restating before including it again. Rather than releasing the same information multiple times, maintain a single set of always-current baseline or reference documents, such as master budgets, schedules and contact lists. As much as possible, stick to a single topic (or set of related topics) per communication. This reduces documentation while also allowing for more finely-tuned distribution.

#3 – Relevant

Including potentially irrelevant or off-topic information in your documents may prompt readers to place your document in the bottomless “read later” pile, or simply file it without more than a cursory glance. Not only does this add to your overall documentation load, it also increases the likelihood that truly important information will be missed. Unless information is vital to your team’s ability to successfully execute your project, or to your stakeholders’ need for ongoing project updates and information, don’t include it.

By applying these guidelines to every document associated with your project, you’ll help cut down on time spent creating and assimilating documents, without compromising the quality or timeliness of your team’s information flow. You stand to gain efficiency in several areas:

During the project – Instead of reading through e-mails that don’t affect you, memos that cover information you received previously, and meeting notes comprised of agenda items both project-related and pertaining to other topics, your team will appreciate receiving exactly the information they need, when they need it, and little else. It’s a way to save time for everyone involved.

After the project – When preparing documents for archival, your commitment to following these guidelines will have a clear pay-off. You’ll have less documentation to archive, and less work to make everything ready for long-term storage.

Preparing for the next project – reviewing documentation from previous projects is enormously helpful when working to identify key players, refreshing your memory about past vendors, and comparing scope against earlier cost metrics. If you’re conditioned to shuffle through a lot of papers before finding what you need, you’ll appreciate the more streamlined process facilitated by the use of these guidelines.

PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide, project management consulting, project management training and project office development services.

Project Management Documentation Tips: Forms & Templates

Forms and templates are the foundation for many types of project documents. Rather than putting unnecessary effort into creating new forms for each project, the use of existing forms and templates can streamline your project’s documentation requirements, and allow your team to focus on higher-level objectives. A variety of resources are available to you when looking for ready-made forms, and a few simple tips will help keep your project’s momentum moving forward when truly custom forms are needed.

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Project Management Documentation Tips: Electronic vs. Hard Copy

The shift to electronic documentation is in full swing, but hard copies haven’t been rendered obsolete quite yet. An efficient project may be best served by skillfully combining formats and allowing project management team members and stakeholders to access materials in the way best suited to each type of document. Understanding how materials are used, distributed and archived will help you determine the best way to use each format’s benefits to your advantage.

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Documentation Tips: Archival

At the end of each project, it’s important to ensure your documentation – including e-mails, invoices, contracts, schedules, diagrams and anything else related to the project – can be easily located, retrieved, searched and referenced later.

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