Missing key project documents

For some key decisions, requirements or commitments, you need to have it in writing.  I have seen too many projects in trouble because everything was managed casually.  I have also seen projects in trouble because of excessive methodology, putting an excessive burden on the delivery of the project.  This is the other side of the problem: being too casual.  It certainly avoids being inefficient because of excessive bureaucracy.  But it is not without its own set of dangers.

Being too casual can also make a casualty of your project.  That is of course not what you want.  I am all for optimizing processes project management.  This is something that many PMOs have a problem understanding, but that would be for another discussion.  It is important to be efficient and optimize the processes and deliver the project effectively and efficiently.

Bad reasons for not documenting

Why do we find a lack of key documentation on some projects?

We can think of a few reasons.

Team collaboration

Often, it starts with good intent.  Documentation is not needed because we are not a bureaucracy.  We are a team, collaboration well among us and with other stakeholders.  We are all here for the success of the team.  The thinking is that we trust each others, and documentation is required when you are either in a bureaucracy or dealing with people you don’t trust.

In some ways, I can see the logic. However, the logic is flawed.

I always prefer to see it this way.

  1. If the person can be trusted with the decisions, requirements or commitments, then documenting will not be an issue.  The information in the document is aligned with what they understand and want to do.  Thus, they will react positively to the document.
  2. If the person cannot be trusted, it is very likely that they will challenge is some ways the document. They like either delay the approval (the most frequent response) or refuse to approve (the most brutal response) the document.

In the first case, documenting will not be an issue.  Everybody will react normally and positively.  The document is aligned with the perceptions and intentions of all.

In the second case, not creating a document will not solve the problem.  It will only hide the problem for a bit longer.  I say that in such cases, when they do not want to put it in writing, you better know it right now, very early in your project.  Otherwise, it will come to haunt you later in the life of the project.

And later, you will have fewer options to deal with the problem.


Often, it is just done for efficiency.  You meet with the client or the project sponsor, and a decision is made.  There is a mutual agreement, and no problem.  There are many other tasks to do, so is is more important to move to the next task than documenting.

While I have seen many projects with too much documentation, it is also important to not go down to zero project documentation.  The solution is to identify what are the key documents and manage this limited set rigorously.

Key documents would usually cover among other things not only the business requirements, the project plan, but also all the decisions made during the life of the project.  It should also include the commitment made by other stakeholders. If you can deliver successfully only if another group do this or that, then it should be put in writing (and also well communicated).


Sometimes, in the digital world we confuse being paperless with having no documentation.  I love being paperless, but I am the first to admit that it is much easier to have an incomplete electronic folder for the project than an incomplete physical project binder.

So we have to pay special attention to your project information management system, especially when it is all digital and paperless.

I would even bring it up to the next level: sometimes, it is even necessary to have a real signature on the document, not just an email approval.  It will really tell you if the other person is committed to the information in the document.

Project Information Management

The project information management system is important.  If it is well designed, it is the friend of the project manager.

It is important to identify the key documents required to manage your project.  This is more important than trying to document everything.  You have to be strategic and efficient in your approach.

Requirements, decisions, and commitments, should be put in writing, and approved by the right person at the right level.

And sometimes, get a physical signature.

So that is my advice of the day:

If it is a key piece of information, put it in writing!