These are the most important project documents
Consistent project documentation for an optimal overview
Consistent project documentation is the foundation for successful projects. However, it does not make sense to simply document everything in an unstructured way. Rather, project documentation should contain the essential information and decisions so that it is meaningful and at the same time can be carried out with reasonable effort. Different sectors, different company sizes and changing project requirements influence the content and scope of the necessary project documentation. We present the five essential project documents that, in our experience, should be used for every project.
Advantages of consistent project documentation
- Better overview: Good project documentation helps employees, project managers and other stakeholders to keep track of the project status.
- Assistance in meeting project requirements: Project documents help you to define and keep track of the requirements and goals of a project and thus ensure that your project is going in the right direction at all times.
- Learn from projects: After project completion, documentation helps you to analyse the course of the project and learn from it. This way you can see what went well, where mistakes happened and where changes were necessary. This helps you to then design your next project in a more optimal way.
Different documents are needed in different project phases. Therefore, we have divided the project documents according to the project phases: initialisation, planning, implementation and completion.
1. Project initialization
1.1 Project manual
The project manual contains all the rules that apply to a specific project as well as the information needed for its implementation. It thus serves as a quick overview for employees or interested parties and lays down all the basics. This document is usually created by the project manager. Depending on which project management methodology you use, the contents may differ and the title of the document may also change. For example, the project manual in DIN 69901-5 is the so-called “Project Management Plan” in the PMBOK Guide and the “Project Management Documentation” in PRINCE2.
Usually the project manual contains the following points:
- Project definition and project objectives
- Organisational structure of the project with all roles, responsibilities and contact persons
- Details of the team members and their contact details
- The rules of the project, such as the tools to be used, the project management software to be used or the software for project documentation, as well as communication and documentation requirements
- An approximate time schedule
However, the project manual can include much more, such as the business case, change requirements or even a glossary of key terms.
1.2 Project assignment
There should be no project without a formal project assignment, because this document is what gives a project manager the official authority to use resources and spend money. Furthermore, the project objective and the framework conditions are precisely fixed in it. Depending on the company and the project, the project assignment can be just a single page with the most important information, or it can be a comprehensive document. This document is signed by the client and the project manager and is thus at the same time a contract between both parties. Even though in practice it is often handled differently, we are convinced that a written project assignment should never be dispensed with.
A project plan describes what is to be implemented in the project and includes at least the work breakdown structure. It also often includes the cost plan, the resource plan and the schedule.
The work breakdown structure is the hierarchical representation of all tasks of a project, while the schedule represents the temporal project sequence in a structured way. Here, tasks and milestones are arranged taking into account interrelationships, constraints and the project goal. The cost plan indicates which costs are likely to be incurred at which point in the project, while the resource plan shows the resources required for the project and how they are to be used.
Project status report
The project status report helps project leaders and team members to get an overview of the current status of a project, to identify problems and risks and to derive measures. It can also be used to inform the project stakeholders about the interim status of the project. Therefore, a project status report prepared at regular intervals is an important tool during the implementation of your projects.
Project completion report
The conclusion of a project provides a good opportunity to reflect on and evaluate the past project. This way you can ensure that the next project will be even more successful. So, while it is easy to be tempted to start immediately with the next project, it makes sense to invest a little time in writing a project completion report. The project completion report also serves as written confirmation that all parties involved have approved the completed project – in other words, the project has fulfilled all objectives and expectations. Since the project completion report is the counterpart to the project assignment, it is also signed by the client and the project leader.
These five project documents will well equip you to carry out your projects successfully and get the most out of them – the only question is where to store these documents so that they are always available to your team, stakeholders and yourself.
The best way to do this is to use a project management software with integrated document management. This allows you to store all important documents directly with the project, the individual tasks or activities. In this way, all the important documents are permanently and quickly available, regardless of location, because they are stored centrally and can be easily retrieved. In addition, you can define who has the authority to retrieve or change the documents and the practical versioning makes changes traceable.
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