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The Right Amount of Documentation in our Projects

How do we strike that balance between properly documenting activities of the project and delivering the product of the project on time, on budget, on scope?

Indeed there are many considerations, not the least of which is the culture of the organization. It’s the culture that will ultimately determine the balance.
By considering the characteristics of the cultural and matching this to the kinds of documentation necessary, we can optimize the project plan to include the right amount of documentation.

We know we need to follow good project management practices and plan well, communicate well, manage changes well, track and manage progress well, etc…All these of course involve some level of documentation. This is project documentation. In larger organizations an audit trail of the project controls may be important.

What about documentation of the project deliverable? For development projects there may be any number of documents required such as requirements, design, detailed design, test plans, etc…These would be defined by the SDLC (Systems Development Life Cycle) process. The product, customer and industry itself may drive the requirement for product documentation. For example, there may be regulations or compliance issues that require a degree of documentation.

So what are the cultural characteristics a project manager might consider?

There are five key cultural drivers that will help you gauge the right level of project and product documentation for your project.

First there is the means vs. ends driver. This is how much management focuses on the outcomes of the project over the processes and approaches used to achieve the outcomes. The controls driver is the degree that industry regulations and company policies impact on the product of the project and on employee behaviour.

The team driver relates to how much work is centered on groups rather than the work of a collection of individuals. Related to this is the integration driver. This is the degree that various groups function in a coordinated or interdependent way.

Finally there is the risk driver. Every organization exhibits a tolerance to the risk of untried innovations and aggressive business practices.

By understanding the documentation requirements for the product and the cultural drivers project managers can optimize the dollars spent on documentation for their projects. This puts them in a better position to plan documentation activities and set expectations with the customer, sponsor and contributing team members.

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