Project documentation

The systematic documentation of the procedures and important events in the project is an essential prerequisite for the planning, the execution and the evaluation of a project. Good documentation is indispensable in the event of one of the project leaders changing. The documentation of projects in general is too broad but not specific enough. For this reason the documents created for the project should be periodically reviewed to make sure they are really useful for the planning and execution of the project as well as for the transfer of experience(s), or whether they should be adapted.

The documents should be:

  • legible and comprehensible,
  • well structured,
  • clear and easily recognizable (information on the contents, the aim, the author),
  • dated (including any dates they were revised),
  • easily accessible.

It is worthwhile establishing a system of documentation which is common to all involved. One of the team members should take responsibility for its creation and management. The methods of documentation used in the institution should be taken into consideration when elaborating the system of documentation for the project and everybody must have access to it. It is best to implement a computerized management of the documentation, protected by a system of passwords, on a central server via intra- or internet. The advantages are:

  • all the collaborators can access the documentation from anywhere
  • the documents can be printed at any time
  • search functions make it easier to find documents or specific facts
  • security is increased by an automatic backup system.

Why you would disregard these aspects

Documenting the project might be difficult for you, because:

  • the effort seems too great,
  • experience shows that many documents cannot be used and are not directly useful to the project,
  • other tasks in the project seem to you to be more important or more urgent,
  • you do not really know which system to choose,
  • keeping a documentation system up-to-date requires a great deal of discipline.

Maybe you accord little importance to the management of documents:

  • because you do not really know which system to choose
  • because keeping a documentation system up-to-date requires a great deal of discipline.

What you have to gain

Using standardized models for different sorts of documents makes it easier to keep a good overview of the project. If you define clear rules of documentation management from the start you save yourself a lot of research work later on. It is easier to write reports (see 'Model Final Report GFS') and to transfer your experience to others inside and outside your institution (see 'Internal Transfer' and 'External Transfer'). If you define clear rules of document management from the start you save yourself a lot of research work later on.

What you can actually do

Define how reports should be presented (minutes of meetings, interview reports, written reports of decisions taken) and make sure you have a coherent presentation of the documents, with an example of the page layout and information on how to identify the documents (date of the last alteration, author of the documents, version etc.).Define rules to:

  • identify
  • collect
  • update
  • archive
  • destroy the documents pertaining to the project.

At the beginning of the of the implementation phase, plan enough time to explain to all the collaborators what should be documented and how.

Questions for critical reflection

  • Is it clearly defined who is responsible for document management?
  • Are all the team members informed about the rules of documentation and do they follow them?
  • Do examples exist for all the types of documents used in the project?
  • Do all the collaborators have access to all important project documents?