Today’s topic is very administrative, yet it is also very important: project information management. Managing project documents is essential in a project if you want to complete tasks and monitor and control the project efficiently. It is even more important in professional services and knowledge areas.
A project generates numerous documents. Among others, you can find the following key documents in a project:
- Project Charter
- Business Cases
- Project plan
- Stakeholder register
- Risk Register
- Project status reports
The list can include many more items, all the way to the lessons learned at the end of the project. And some projects, such as business consulting and advisory, tends to create documents as deliverable, based on an analysis of other documents and the results of analytical working papers.
Information management is often only lightly discussed in project methodology. Project Management methodologies discuss tools, techniques and processes that generate documents. For many processes, it is considered a best approach, if not a required approach, to document the various parts of managing a project. However, it is almost assumed that either a system exists or somehow project team member with just make it happen.
Poor project information management will create huge inefficiency and often also impact the quality of the final deliverable.
Information Management in PMBOK
PMBOK discusses information management with the Project Management Information System and the Information Management Systems.
The Project Management Information System (PMIS) is discussed as part of Project Integration Management. It is a tool used to direct and manage project, and monitor and control project. The glossary defines the PMIS as:
“An information system consisting of the tools and techniques used to gather, integrate, and disseminate the outputs of project management processes. It is used to support all aspects of the project from initiating through closing, and can include both manual and automated systems.” PMBOK, Glossary, p. 554.
PMBOK provides the following definition for Information Management Systems:
“Facilities, processes, and procedures used to collect, store, and distribute information between producers and consumers of information in physical or electronic format.” PMBOK, Glossary, P. 543.
PMBOK includes information management systems as part of the tools and techniques identified in the sections manage communications and control communications, in Chapter 10 Project Communications Management. The chapter discusses how project information is managed and distributed. In Manage communications, it discusses briefly the hard-copy and electronic form of information used to manage a project. In control communications, it describes information management systems as:
“An information management system provides a set of standard tool for the project manager to capture, store, and distribute information to stakeholders about project’s costs, schedule progress, and performance. Some software packages allow the project manager to consolidate reports from several systems and facilitate report distribution to the project stakeholders. Examples of distribution formats may include table reporting, spreadsheet analysis, and presentations.” PMBOK, 10.3.2.1 Information Management Systems, p. 306
The information management system is also part of the tools and techniques to support Control Stakeholder Engagement in Chapter 13 Project Stakeholder Management, with the same description as in the chapter on communications. Aside from that, not much more information is provided. The methodology assumes that it is there. But it is the responsible of the project manager, and the project team, to make sure it is indeed there.
The current work environment is often mostly if not only digital. In the past, a paper binder of key documents would be maintained. In 2014, it is much more common to have all project documents managed as electronic documents on a hard drive. I love being paperless, and am all setup in my personal life to work with only electronic documents. It all started a few years ago when my printer broke and I didn’t replace it. The lack of a printer forced me to organize myself to work with just the electronic documents. Nothing beats having no other option to force us to adapt and find solutions.
Having a good information management system for electronic documents is doable, but it requires a system. It is no different from dealing with a paper-based system. However, based on my experience, the digital world makes it easy to hide the chaos. In a paper-based system, if the documents are not organized, the binder is confused and documents are just all over the place in the office. The visibility of the chaos often creates a good pressure to organize. In order to organize the office, a system is then easily created. Just the act of creating a physical binder often forces us to create a structure for the project information.
In the digital world, a structure is just as important. However, because the chaos on a hard drive is more invisible (which is why I have put an image of paper documents for this post), I have seen many projects with very bad information management. Too often, the hard drive (or shared drive, or even cloud storage) becomes a dumping ground for all documents. As such, the project information in the digital world can suffer of:
- Too many versions of documents.
- Documents obtained but not required for the project
- Missing key documents
- Unstructured storage of documents
- Difficulty to locate proper documents
- Structure too complex
- Structure only understood by one or two persons.
- Numerous storage places
- The worse one: each team member dumping documents only on their private hard drive.
Tips and advice on information management
The subject may not often be discussed, but it is important to have a good information management system for our project. This is important to ensure that proper documentation exists, can be managed efficiently, and is can easily be found in the future. It is a very important efficiency factor. Without it, every request for information or project performance reports will take far too much time to do. You want to spend your time on completing successfully the deliverables, not searching for documents.
I must say that every project in trouble that I had to help had this common problem. The hard drive was always an information dump, as confused as it can be. Even if the project is following a good methodology, too often those methodologies always assume that there is a process or a system to manage documents. This is a big assumption, and often an inaccurate one. Without a system to manage project information, the percentage of time spent looking for documents, searching for information and preparing performance reports is increased significantly.
Here are some tips and advice to manage project information.
- Structure: Establish a structure from the beginning of the project. It is just too easy to dump documents on a drive.
- Common drive: no information on private hard drives. Otherwise, just one employee sick or on vacation is a problem.
- Simplicity: Do not make the structure too complex: If the structure has too many folders and sub-folders, it becomes very difficult to decide where a document should go, and retrieve a document can also be complex.
- Ease of understanding: Make the structure easy to understand: the structure should be easy enough to understand, not just by the project manager, but by the whole project team. Ideally, it should be reasonably easy to understand if a new team member joins, or if someone looks at it in the future. Don’t use cryptic labels.
- Keep it clean: Transition copies should be deleted: often to protect ourselves, we create temporary working version of documents. It is useful to have in case of failure or just a need to start fresh from a previous version. However, these needs are temporary and the transition versions should be deleted. It is useless and just confusing to have 32 working version of a report.
- eLibrary: The structure should simplify savings documents that may be useful in many other project areas. A nice approach is to create a project document eLibrary for those, and refer to them as needed. With this approach, the global documents are only saved once.
- Document Inbox: to avoid chaos, if there are often documents that you may be unsure where to save them, create and inbox for documents on the drive to save them there temporarily until you can process and organize them.
- Key email: Include the important email in the key information to manage the project. Save them as pdf. Email that stay in the user email app tend to be disconnected from the project, and impossible to access by other team members. That is why I also love cloud project management and team collaboration app.
- Transparency: Be as transparent as possible with project information. Someone I find that chaos usually help people hide information, and I do believe and being transparent and honest in communication is a key success factor.
- Close Information management. As part of project closing, it is important to do a review of the project information and clean and reorganize as needed.
What are your thoughts, experience and advice on project information management? Please share!
The extra box
Read the Online Storage Services Review 2014 at Top 10 Reviews.
Information management is also important for your career: Manage your career and resume actively
Michel Dion, PMP, CPA
Founder and Developer of Project-Aria
Discover my book:
Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers: Achieve Better Results in a Dynamic World