The focal point of project management is getting stuff done. Getting projects completed under budget, on time, and within scope. That is the cake of project management. The icing is documentation.
When it comes to closing out a project, questions may arise. Who did what when? Why did this cost so much? Who said two people could perform that work? Only one day was allotted for that activity. Why does the invoice state three days?
All of these complications seem to pop up when the bill comes due, and it is not what they expected. People start to analyze every detail trying to determine the root cause for delays or overages.
Documentation becomes important during these disputes. Who said you could replace the oven for $700? The owner and here is the email stating as such. Why were two people used for the installation? Because the situation called for two people and here are the pictures to prove it.
So, how can a project manager undertake documentation in a better manner?
Make documentation a priority
Make documentation a scheduled activity that needs to get done. Every Tuesday afternoon, you update your documentation. Sit down, send the emails, take the notes, and review. The upfront work makes the closing that much easier.
You have the owner approval email stating that you can move forward at this cost under those circumstances. You have the vendor voicemail stating the shipment will not be in until next week delaying the project because of a fault on their end.
Every phone call gets a follow-up email to confirm what was said during the conversation. Texts never get deleted. Screenshots get stored. Voicemails downloaded. All communication, especially any with a source who is known to be difficult, gets tracked, pinned, labeled, and so on. Getting into good practice now means all this can be done swiftly and it will save days of argument and stress later on.
Prioritizing documentation brings it to the forefront of you and your team’s minds – priorities signal importance. If documentation is a priority in your organization and your team, the importance of it can never be overstressed. All it takes is someone, once, to dispute a cost, and if you do not have the communication stating differently, then documentation will prove to be a nightmare.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Some people do not learn their lesson until they have been fooled for decades.
Make documentation accessible
Shared email accounts, folders, or a Dropbox account are examples of ways to make it easy for multiple users to update documentation. Rather than everyone bombarding everyone else or your inbox with updates, team members can access the documentation folder and update it themselves.
The person responsible for the activity should be the one updating the activity – no second- or third-hand accounts of the story. The person answering the phone updates the activity based on the conversation.
Shared email accounts are an easy way for everyone to monitor the project. Keep subject lines obvious and threads ongoing. There’s no reason to start a new email chain for every response. Some tenants will open new work orders to comment on an old work order, only confusing the situation. If the updates stay within the same work order from start to finish, there is a chain of comments related to the activity making it easy to see what was done, when, and what was the context surrounding it.
Use documentation templates
Make all communication look similar, so people know where to find things. This templated messaging system not only helps the receiver find the information more quickly but also allows other team members the ability to search a message quickly.
Don’t put nuances in section one on one document then in section four on another. Templates should not have nuances. They should be straightforward. Section one is for the project description only. Section two is for contact information. Section three is a vendor list. If this is how the first document looks, this is how the last document should look. The same folder should be used for all of these documents.
The idea is to have the ability to take a layperson off of the street, introduce them to your process, and have them follow it easily. A step-by-step guide can be created when templates are used. The words and punctuation can vary because we are humans and do not speak robot, but the information should share the same locations.
Getting work done is great. Performing work and not getting paid accordingly is a nightmare. Documentation solves this closing-out headache.
Prioritizing documentation ensures it occurs. Block out time daily, weekly, monthly, or however, you want to do it. Let one scheduled meeting slip by and all of a sudden the project is completed and all the documentation you have is from the kickoff meeting.
Make the documents accessible. All team members involved should have the ability to update from anywhere. A central location for these documents should also exist: there is no reason to have three different folders for the same project.
Lastly, use and abuse templates. Copy and paste are your friends. Work smarter not harder. Documentation can be a pain so do not make it any more difficult than it needs to be. A simple ‘yes’ from an owner or a contractor can make completion a breeze.
Documentation can not only protect your project and your team but also make your project go smoother.
Christopher Cook, PMP, MSPM, has an extensive career in the construction industry. Throughout his career, he has been awarded over 40 construction projects that have yielded a 10% profit for each organization. He has a Bachelor’s of Science in Industrial Technology Management with an emphasis on Building Construction Management and Master’s of Science in Project Management. To find out more about him visit EntrePMeur. Christopher writes about strategy and cost management.