The role of Documentation in Project Communication

At the heart of every project failure to one degree or another you will find poor communication. On the surface this often seems like a simple task that many project managers have a natural grasp of. It is often a skill which has led them to the positions they are in. Regardless of natural aptitude, sooner or later there are minute details or sheer volume of information that will overwhelm even the most effective communicators. That is why we need a PLAN. Let’s start today discussing the role of documentation in this Communication Plan.

To put it simply, I am often not necessarily all that thoughtful, and I also have a poor memory. Now, I am a male, but perhaps that is beside the point. The point is that I will often forget to inform everyone who should be informed (not thoughtful) and will often forget the foundations for decisions that were made in the past (poor memory). Much of my personal project management style is founded in informal forms of communication: phone calls, face-to-face conversations, open dialogue during meetings. It is so critical for me to document these discussions in one form or another to improve communication and to memorialize decisions for the record.

The problem often is that this secondary act of record-keeping is often overlooked due to time constraints. You have held your meeting, completed a 2 hour teleconference, or made some great progress with a team member during a one-on-one visit to their office. This is excellent work. Don’t lose that value by letting it fade into the dark. Meeting minutes have long been a staple of formal meetings and I would recommend them as a continued must for every project. This alone takes a fair amount of commitment. But often more importantly is the written summation via email or memorandum of those smaller group or individual conversations; for two reasons:

  1. Obviously, it records the decisions for future review (assuming you file it somewhere that you can find later … another topic!)
  2. It requires that the composer of the record re-state the conversation in writing, adding to their understanding of the decisions that were made and allowing the other participants in the conversation to review, clarify if needed, and often most importantly, concur in writing!

This is a tedious but valuable aspect of project management. You should set minimum standards for communication documentation, assign responsibility to individuals for compiling these written accounts and establish filing/distribution protocol for this documentation.

If it saves you once, and it will, it will be worth it. It is a tax you have to pay for a successful project!

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