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  • Rick Ktorides

5 Tips - Mastering Project Documentation

I'd feel such a sense of dread each time I had to do documentation. I would try putting it off for as long as I could and when I finally got around to doing it - it'd take me ages to string a simple sentence in the document.

Any little thing would be a welcome distraction.

At one point I promised myself I would get straight into it after a quick snack justifying that it's hard to focus on an empty stomach.

I ended up cooking myself a 3-course meal as a self-delaying tactic to avoid getting into a project implementation plan document.

The kicker - I was then too tired to do anything after eating so much!

It was pretty much at that point that I came to the following realisation - If I can't hack it at documentation, I've got no business being in Project Management.

Here are my top 5 tips for mastering project documentation:

Tip # 1 - Change your thinking

This one is about changing the way you perceive documentation.

Instead of having the "negative" perception that documentation serves little purpose, is something no one will read, is a waste of time and that you hate doing...

Have the "positive" perception that documentation is some magical superpower that you are in control of that allows you to protect everyone's best interests.

Here's the magical superpower of documentation:

  • It takes out of thin air what people have said, are thinking, how they are planning to do something or what they are planning to do and solidifies a position (before it vanishes forever)

  • Cements what's everyone's agreed (so they'll find it hard to refute later)

  • Ensures you have not misinterpreted a common understanding (saving you or your team from possible future embarrassment)

  • Provides you an opportunity to logically structure what you intend on doing to help ensure you don't miss anything (it keeps you honest)

  • Ensures that everyone is on-board as the project takes important steps (it's got your back)

  • Makes people consider things more carefully when you ask them to sign-off (gives them an accountability)

  • It never forgets anything you put into it and remembers everything with 100% accuracy (you can always come back to it whenever you need)

  • Gives you that solid foundation you need to baseline aspects of your project such as cost, scope and schedule (so you can progress in confidence)

Isn't such a superpower worth mastering how to use effectively?

Tip # 2 - Presentation

I can't tell you the number of times I've opened a document and have been put off even before I've read the first word.

It's just human nature - when it's not well presented, people's first assumption will be that the content is just as poor.

If it looks professional - you're already 50% there!

Make sure that your document:

  • Looks the part from a visual aesthetics perspective

  • Has everything aligned consistently

  • Contains paragraphs that are no longer than 3.5 lines - otherwise they become very tiresome to read

  • Makes good use of white space to break things up

  • Uses pertinent pictures and diagrams rather than text

  • Includes tables - they are super effective as they are easy to read and reference

  • Uses bullet points so that key points clearly stand out

  • Takes advantage of standard fonts so that your documentation will look the same on other systems - rather than fall victim of font substitution and being potentially unreadable

  • Uses easy to read fonts such as ‘Calibri’ or ‘Arial' and not too small or too big

Tip # 3 - Start by writing how you would speak

I know this one is not for everyone - but this one helped me overcome writer's block and taking an eternity just to string a sentence.

I could easily talk through and explain something however my issue was that I would get stuck as soon as I needed to document it.

This is the thought cycle I'd get into:

  • So - this is exactly what I want to say.....

  • Now, how can I translate this down on paper so it reads well?

  • Hmm, am I using the right words?

  • Can I start a sentence with that?

  • Err, my sentence is double and triple-barrelled and too long!

  • There must be a better way to put this!

  • Hang on, that's not coming across the right way!

  • What's my point again?

My problem was that I was trying to produce documentation the very same way that my English teacher had spent all those years impressing on me - academically and formally with all those rules.

As soon as I put that all aside and just documented the how I would speak, it just got a whole lot easier and quicker.

If you are having the same issues I did, try it out.

Here are the 3 simple steps:

  • Imagine how you'd speak the point you're making to your intended audience if they were right in front of you

  • Document it exactly how you would speak it

  • When completed, perform a single review and clean-up to give it a professional feel.

Tip # 4 - Be on point

When it comes to doing project documentation, there is nothing better than being short, concise, to the point and on point!

For instance, if you are documenting a project brief, avoid trying to teach the reader what a project brief is, why we need it, the benefits of having one, where it fits in the methodology, etc.

Just get straight into documenting a brief of the project you are doing.

If you really need to have all that other info, add a one liner with a hyperlink that contains all that extra stuff.

I once had to review a 30-page Project Implementation Plan where there was only a mere 3 pages of relevant information telling me about what the actual implementation was going to be like for that particular project.

Tip # 5 - Find your best documentation setting

I find I do my best documentation in the early hours of the morning, from home and before anyone gets up.

My mind is fresh, there are no distractions - it's just me and my document.

The eerie quietness allows me to be fully immersed and archive high levels of concentration so I can crush through it.

The result - I get my documentation done several times quicker and of a much higher standard than if I were in the office where there are distractions galore and can't get that immersed.

Everyone is different - discover what your best documentation setting is. It could be late night, at a coffee shop or perhaps even in the office with all the buzz.

Bonus Tip: Get early document drafts reviewed

Just missing out on my top 5 - this one is about getting early drafts of your document reviewed for feedback, so you don't spend time going in the wrong direction.

I've saved countless hours having early drafts of my documentation reviewed especially for more complex documentation such as business cases, funding papers and project execution plans.

This one also helps ensure that the document aligns with key stakeholder expectations and what they are expecting out of the document.

It's also a great way of breaking up the work.

In closing...

Perhaps the most important thing about mastering documentation is to keep practicing and don't give up!

You will develop your own style and what once would have taken you 20+ hours, you'll be able to knock out in a fraction of the time.

It will become second nature - think: Crawl ➜ Walk ➜ Run !



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