Project documentation proliferates at a startling pace. Before you know it, your current project’s files are stuffed, you have a stack of documentation boxes to prepare for storage, or you’re stuck sifting through thick folders from past projects in search of important information.

Before the amount of documentation flowing amongst team members and stakeholders becomes overwhelming, make an effort to rein it in with some thoughtful planning and ruthless editing. Consider employing the following guidelines to help trim your documents to a more manageable level, and enjoy increased efficiency now and later.

#1 – Clear

When composing documents, state the information you want to convey as plainly and simply as possible. If you’re announcing bad news, don’t dress it up – just say it. Changes to the team’s structure, schedule modifications, budget issues, updated stakeholder expectations and a host of other topics can be sensitive and uncomfortable, but resist the urge to be vague or evasive. Everyone involved with your projects needs to clearly understand the lay of the land, even if it isn’t pleasant. If you’re still waiting for additional information or if data is pending, plainly delineate what you know and what you don’t. Ensuring your team is operating under a common set of information is a critical concern.

#2 – Concise

The simplest way to remember this rule is this: say what you need to say, and then stop. But beware, it’s often harder than it sounds. With the exception of timelines, budgets and a few other items, you shouldn’t be rehashing old news. If information has already been disseminated, strongly consider if it needs restating before including it again. Rather than releasing the same information multiple times, maintain a single set of always-current baseline or reference documents, such as master budgets, schedules and contact lists. As much as possible, stick to a single topic (or set of related topics) per communication. This reduces documentation while also allowing for more finely-tuned distribution.

#3 – Relevant

Including potentially irrelevant or off-topic information in your documents may prompt readers to place your document in the bottomless “read later” pile, or simply file it without more than a cursory glance. Not only does this add to your overall documentation load, it also increases the likelihood that truly important information will be missed. Unless information is vital to your team’s ability to successfully execute your project, or to your stakeholders’ need for ongoing project updates and information, don’t include it.

By applying these guidelines to every document associated with your project, you’ll help cut down on time spent creating and assimilating documents, without compromising the quality or timeliness of your team’s information flow. You stand to gain efficiency in several areas:

During the project – Instead of reading through e-mails that don’t affect you, memos that cover information you received previously, and meeting notes comprised of agenda items both project-related and pertaining to other topics, your team will appreciate receiving exactly the information they need, when they need it, and little else. It’s a way to save time for everyone involved.

After the project – When preparing documents for archival, your commitment to following these guidelines will have a clear pay-off. You’ll have less documentation to archive, and less work to make everything ready for long-term storage.

Preparing for the next project – reviewing documentation from previous projects is enormously helpful when working to identify key players, refreshing your memory about past vendors, and comparing scope against earlier cost metrics. If you’re conditioned to shuffle through a lot of papers before finding what you need, you’ll appreciate the more streamlined process facilitated by the use of these guidelines.

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