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.

Most project management documentation falls into one of three main categories:

Working documents reflect the current state of the project. They’re updated as needed throughout the project’s lifecycle, and may be shared by various members of the team. Working documents are fluid in nature, and usually see frequent revisions.

Now: Creating and maintaining these types of documents electronically is often the most efficient way to go, as it utilizes fewer resources. Updating and distributing working documents is also easily accomplished when they’re in electronic format.

Later: Archival can be accomplished in either format, and will largely depend on the amount of physical storage space available to you, as well as your team’s preference for one format over another. It’s not uncommon at the end of a project to find yourself with a staggering quantity of working documents to evaluate, and some aggressive purging will be in order when preparing project materials for archival.

Reference documents form the project’s information base (i.e., contracts, vendor lists, etc.), and are either created anew or taken from previous projects to facilitate standardization. Reference documents usually undergo fewer updates and changes than working documents, and are used chiefly as a baseline for a project’s activities.

Now: Either electronic or paper format may be appropriate for reference documents. Factors such as the need for remote access will tip the scales toward electronic files, while a more localized team could mean that pinning a paper copy of your vendor list where everyone can see it is efficient and perfectly acceptable.

Later: Some reference documents are prime candidates for archival in hard copy format. Materials such as drawings, artwork, floorplans, charts, diagrams and images may not transfer well into electronic format. It’s also possible that your reference documents will be subject to review by regulatory officials or some other external oversight group. Maintaining a format that’s easy to access and utilize should be of primary importance in these instances.

Reports and status updates are distributed among team members and/or to vendors, business partners, stakeholders and end users. While these reports are updated throughout the project’s lifecycle, creation of each new version is typically controlled within the project team to ensure the integrity of the information being distributed.

Now: Unless your stakeholders strongly support electronic documents, many organizations are still most comfortable with formal reports being presented in hard copy format. If you’re providing a client with project support, be sure to ask what format they prefer.

Later: Formal reports and other milestone indicators need to include any accompanying charts or spreadsheets when sent to long-term storage. Your goal is to make these materials easily located, referenced and understood when retrieved later, which makes the selection of an archival format a prime concern. If storing reports electronically, take care to properly index all materials and establish accurate review or destruction dates. Reports stored in hard copy format should be cataloged and thoroughly reviewed to ensure you’re keeping final versions and not working copies that may contain errors or be otherwise confusing when referenced later. Consider the physical space available for storage, as well as the potential for format incompatibilities or other issues that may hinder future retrieval or use.

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

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