Project Management Institute

The planning of project documents


by Neal Whitten, PMP, Contributing Editor

I FREQUENTLY REVIEW project plans. A common weakness I encounter is the underplanning of project documents. Project documents include any documents that must be prepared and approved during a project; examples are requirements, specifications, contracts with vendors, design documents, test plans, and publications that will be delivered to the client along with the final product.

For example, if a project plan identifies an activity as “Test Plan” and shows a duration of six weeks, what does this mean? Does it mean that the Test Plan document can be prepared, reviewed, updated, and approved all in six weeks? Or does it mean only that the Test Plan will be prepared? Big difference!

Document-related activities should be parsed into smaller, more discrete activities when developing a project plan. These discrete activities are referred to as document implementation phases. The logical sequence of these phases is preparation, review, update, approval, and refresh. Let's briefly look at each of these five phases.

Preparation. This is usually the longest of the phases and can vary from several hours for very small, simple documents to many weeks for large, complex documents.

Review. This phase begins when the document is distributed for examination. This phase is typically several days to several weeks in duration, depending on the document type, size, and availability and proximity of reviewers. Documents distributed for review should be essentially complete—no sections should be missing or significantly deficient. The goal is for all information to be available, complete, and accurate.

Update. This phase is used to modify a document in response to comments from reviewers. Time is set aside to react to comments and concerns that, once addressed, will ensure a better product or project. This phase may be from several days to several weeks in duration depending on the document and the quantity and complexity of the problems identified. All updates to the document should be highlighted, such as the use of revision bars in the margins. This will allow reviewers to locate quickly the most recent changes to the document.


Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group (, is a speaker, trainer, consultant and author. His books include The EnterPrize Organization: Organizing Software Projects for Accountability and Success [Project Management Institute,2000]. Comments on this column should be directed to

Approval. This is the final opportunity for responses on a document. This phase is called approval because final agreement on the document's contents must be reached here. This phase might take from several days to several weeks.

Refresh. The last phase is used to record any changes to the document that have occurred during the approval phase. The document is then distributed for information purposes only; no more comments are expected or solicited. This phase could take as little as one hour or as long as several weeks.

Some documents might need only the three phases: preparation, approval, and refresh. These documents are typically small in size, cause little controversy, and would require little change from a first review. Documents that require all five phases are those that are considered critical or complex project documents. To omit the review and update phases for documents that are considered primary is usually a grave mistake.

Although the five phases described here are adequate for most documents, you might choose to identify other phases for some documents. For example, separate phases related to customer validation or inspection might be added.

However many phases you assign to a document, it is important to separately identify, plan, and track these phases. Returning to our original example, “Test Plan—6 weeks” is better planned and tracked by parsing that document into smaller activities, such as Prepare Test Plan—2.5 weeks, Review Test Plan—1 week, Update Test Plan—1 week, Approve Test Plan—1 week, and Refresh Test Plan—.5 weeks.

PROJECT PLANNING IS all about getting in control. Dividing a document-related activity into smaller activities helps you do just that. ■

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.

December 2000 PM Network



Related Content

  • Why Great Ideas Fail and How to Make Sure They Don't

    By Vargas, Ricardo Viana | Conforto, Edivandro Carlos | Oumarou, Tahirou Assane To reduce failure rates and successfully deliver strategies in 2020 and beyond, organizations must overcome disruptive forces and flip posing challenges to opportunities and advantages. It all…

  • Pulse of the Profession

    Tomorrow's Teams Today

    By PMI PMI research reveals that it’s the organizations with creative, collaborative and agile teams that will thrive in The Project Economy.

  • PM Network

    All Access

    By Fister Gale, Sarah No more limits. That's the battle cry on everything from construction sites to next-gen digital design as teams look for ways to ensure projects accommodate people with disabilities related to…

  • PM Network

    Vital Signs

    Transforming horizon-focused strategic visions into here-and-now reality can't happen in a vacuum. Instead, project leaders must cultivate a deep understanding of the business, technological,…

  • PM Network

    Power to Change

    By Tayel, Jess Many organizations are undergoing (or will soon undergo) a business transformation program geared toward growth and creating a competitive advantage. When successful, these programs bring about a…