The Key Documents Every Single Project Should Have

Let's do one exercise together 

Let's assume that you are hired for covering the role of Project Manager for a new company. You feel very happy because of the new challenge in front of you, but a bit worried about the uncertainty of change.

After the onboarding process, which takes place during the first three weeks you're finally assigned to a project that needs to kick off. At the beginning you start looking for project documentation, processes, reporting tools... but after several hours and meetings with your colleagues you realize there's nothing in place in terms of project documentation.

The question is really simple: Which project documents would you introduce for managing your project?

The must have of project documentation
Spoiler alert: The answer to this question is just few lines below, and you can download the templates for these documents here.

First we go with some assumptions

I know you may need some context to properly answer the question above, so I'll try to give you some guidelines to continue with the exercise.

  • There's no methodology in place, so you have completely freedom for documenting your project.
  • We assume you'll be following Waterfall methodology.
  • The documents you'll introduce may be used afterwards by your colleagues.
  • You don't want to overload your colleagues with too many new docs (it would have a negative impact).

So, now that you have a clear picture about the requirements, which docs would you introduce for managing your project? 

This is my view

I would like first to clarify that this exercise doesn't have a good or bad answer. I'm sharing my view based on in my years of experience and, pending on different factors (type of project, size, budget...) this document list may change.

I'll take the constraint of trying not to overload my colleagues, so I will think the other way around. My question for answering this exercise will be: Which are the must in terms of project documentation? Why I couldn't avoid any of them? 

Let's go together through each of them. 

1. The Project Charter

Imagine business has a requirement, so they need to deploy a new tool for controlling the costs. You will be probably contacted by your manager and assigned to a initiative. Be aware this is still not a project. 

So, you're first work as Project Manager is to land these business requirements into a more detailed approach. This is the objective of the Project Charter. This document will be serving you for setting the basis for your project and finally, start executing your project.

The key points to be added to this document are:

  • Project Name
  • Project scope
  • Project schedule (high level approach would be acceptable at this point)
  • Project team
  • Risk assessment
  • Budget Breakdown (x% variance is acceptable at this point, to be agreed with the PMO of your company).

In some companies, this file is used for selling the project to senior management and receive the budget for your project.

Important tip: Keep a business oriented wording in this document. Try not to be too techie and highlight the business advantages of executing the project.

2. The Solution Architecture

This document may be splitted in different ones like the High Level Design (HLD) and Low Level Design (LLD) but the logical behind is the same: document what will be deployed from a technical point of view.

A totally recommended practice is to get this document approved by the technical leads from the different areas. By this way you'll be sure what will be deployed is not impacting the infrastructure in place. During this approval step you'll be able to solve all the questions the technical leads may have.

The points to be added to this document will be fully focused in the AS-IS and TO-BE infrastructure. You'll have to provide all the technical information required to fully understand the solution from different perspectives (logical, physical).

3. Test Cases 

At this point you have deployed part of the solution (or maybe the full solution) and you're thinking on moving forward with the handover to operations. There's a mandatory step before proceeding with the handover which is the Test Phase

During this phase you should create a register with all the tests that has been done to your solution and the results. This is the objective of the Test Cases document.

Pending on each project, Test Cases may be a simple email with a checklist or a more complex document, but the ultimate objective is the same. The Test Cases should register all the test executed (obtained vs expected). This document should also be signed by the reviewer.

4. Operational Support Plan

Once you have deployed the solution and completed the Test Phase, it's time to proceed with the handover to operations, but first please let me ask some questions: 

  • Would you handover to Production one system with no support procedures in place?
  • Do you think is important to be aligned in the maintenance windows?
  • What about monitoring? Should this be checked and registered during the handover?
  • Would you consider Backup Management a key point to be registered?
  • Did you think about accesses? Who should get access? With which purpose?

And I could keep asking. The objective of this document is to compile all the relevant information to be sure the handover to operations will be properly completed. 

From my point of view, if a system is in Production, it should have at least the answer to my questions above, and the answer should probably be in the Operational Support Plan.

Final thoughts

Before going with the last section, just share with you that you can download all the documents we reviewed following this link.

As I already stated, there're no good or bad answers, I had two main objectives with this post:

  • Share with you my point of view for solving the question I did at the beginning. 
  • Make you think about the importance of project documentation.

I hope this exercise has been useful for you. 

Which documents would you say are the must for your projects? Please, feel free to share with me your thoughts about this topic by adding a comment to this post.

Project Management
September 19, 2022


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