Project Management Institute

Documentation, documentation, documentation

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Michael G. Petko, PMP

The Three Most Important Requirements of Good Project Management

As an executive, you realize the importance of tracking and monitoring your work and the work of your subordinates. But what about your client? Throughout the life of a project, there are sometimes innumerable changes to scope, schedule, requirements, and the like. How does one ensure a smooth process in dealing with these changes?

Michael Petko provides an insightful solution. As he makes his case for documentation and its fundamental import, pay special attention to his mapping to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. Then, see for yourself if you can't figure out a simple and time-honored solution to those seemingly never-ending client changes.

Joan Knutson, Feature Editor

It has often been said that the three most important considerations in selecting a good place to live are “location, location, and location.” Based on my experience, an analogy in project management is that to complete a successful project, the most important requirements are documentation, documentation, and documentation. Let's walk through a typical project to see how critical is this need for careful and effective documentation by the project manager and also see the relationship of documentation to the PMBOK Guide's nine knowledge areas.

Initiation Phase

Most projects are organized around an initial scope, budget, and schedule. Depending on such variables as size of project, client relationship, and commercial terms, the degree of documentation of these initial parameters may vary from a few paragraphs to several volumes of text. Even on the smallest or simplest project, however, it is critical to take the time to write down and communicate what the planned deliverables are, when they will be delivered and what their cost will be. “The best surprise is no surprise” applies here. Hearing a client say, “That's not what I expected” not only violates the basic guidelines of good quality management, but also puts you in the unpleasant professional situation of explaining this serious “misunderstanding” to your client. In this litigious world we live in, careful documentation of the agreement or contract will also pay dividends later if the “dreaded dispute” should arise.

Execution Phase

After the euphoria and newness has worn off, and during the execution phase of the project, it's time for the project manager to earn those high dollars that we're all paid! Here is where it is absolutely critical to project success to document to the client, in a timely fashion, any changes to scope, budget, schedule, or quality requirements. This documentation takes many forms, from the construction field change order to a simple letter or note, but it must be written (electronic communication with reliable delivery is fine) and it must be timely. The change notification should also include the capacity to document the client's response to your communication.

Figure 1. Project Phases and the Nine Knowledge Areas of the PMBOK

Project Phases and the Nine Knowledge Areas of the PMBOK

This documentation process during the heat of battle is sometimes postponed or forgotten because of schedule pressures to just move ahead and to postpone dealing with confirmation of the change. The concept of advising the client that a change is taking place and the potential impact of that change, all in a timely and appropriate manner, is fundamental to successful project management.

Completion Phase

Completion of the “paperwork” required to gain closure on project issues and determine outstanding problems that can delay close-out is difficult for some project managers. However, if not dealt with in an organized fashion, completing the project can be both costly—if final payments are withheld—and time consuming.

Close-out activities are usually included in the project schedule, but one technique of documentation used most effectively at this time is a close-out checklist or punchlist. Preparation of this punch-list and buy-in from all interested parties will give needed organization to these often diverse and unrelated activities. Once in place, this close-out documentation will allow the project manager to manage the final activities on the old project and move on to the excitement and allure of the next project.

Documentation and the PMBOK Guide

As we think about documentation during the three general phases described above, we can see a direct correlation to the nine project management knowledge areas described in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. Figure 1 shows that even though documentation of Risk, for example, is more critical during the Initiation and Execution Phases, each knowledge area has a 1:1 mapping to critical documentation during the three project phases.

Pop Quiz. Let's see if you remember anything from my little treatise. The three most important requirements to complete a successful project are _____, _____, and _____. img

Michael G. Petko, PMP, is vice president of operations for a mid-sized engineering consulting firm with offices in Charlotte and Wilmington, N.C., and Richmond, Va. He is a founding and current member of PMI's Metrolina Chapter.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM Network • September 1996

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