Documentation in project management

Documentation plays a significant role in project management, more specifically in the area of quality management. It enables the efficient collection, organisation, management and control of project documents, which are essential to ensure the quality of project results. However, document management can become a real challenge if the appropriate processes and systems are not implemented. In this article, you will learn what to look for in project documentation and the role of quality management.
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Comprehensive documentation

An important point that always leads to discussions between project and quality management is documentation. Too many forms, too many reports, too much paperwork in general. But even without explicit quality management, there is a lot of documentation in every project. And if project managers are honest with themselves, it is in their interest to ensure good documentation. Basically, quality management can only help to structure it, and perhaps even demand it, so that it does not fall into oblivion. The annoyance of not having documentation is usually many times greater than the annoyance of having documentation that takes up a lot of working time at times when deadlines are critical. In ISO 9001-certified companies, comprehensive and systematic documentation is essential anyway. And all users agree: it makes sense and helps.

Adequacy of documentation

The concept of adequacy is particularly important in ISO 9001 certification. It states that documentation should never be an end in itself. Only what is subsequently required in writing is documented. The role of quality management is to establish and monitor a documentation practice that is as comprehensive as necessary and as concise as possible. However, in addition to the requirements of ISO 9001, there are often customer requirements, regulatory requirements and documentation requirements from other third parties. In some cases there are synergies and certain documents can be used for different purposes in a slightly modified form. However, the amount of documentation required varies greatly depending on who is involved in the project. In some cases, there are also commercial or legal requirements that require documentation.

Orderly documentation

The decision to implement a quality management system in an organisation is often made because of conflicting, hindering or overlapping requirements. A quality management system (QMS) is intended to remedy this situation and provide structure. After an implementation phase, the documentation in a company is usually much more orderly and consistent. Of course, this means a change for all departments and especially for the project managers.

Special topic: development projects

Development work is particularly documentation-intensive. This is in the nature of things and is unavoidable. Ideally, the development projects department is involved in the development of the QMS or even the QM manual. Jointly defined standards for the documentation of development projects are better suited to the respective topic and thus more appropriate and easier to follow. If in the end all developers know why they should document certain things and how they should do it, everyone is helped. The documentation will be better and more focused overall, because documentation that is created out of conviction, rather than just following guidelines, is of higher quality. It also prevents developers from recording and documenting things that are not relevant, thus avoiding unnecessary work.

Goals and standards

There are standards that can be set universally for all projects, even if this seems difficult to imagine given the complexity of project management. One area where this statement is particularly true is reporting and documentation. Everywhere it is important that the communication channels are clearly defined and thus, of course, also the recipients of the various information and reports. Many projects work with a matrix that shows the responsibilities and the recipients. In the same matrix, deadlines can also be defined. These deadlines are in turn linked to the milestones of the project, because there are not only weekly and monthly reports and documentation, but also, for example, presentations at the end of each phase.

Tips for better documentation

One tip that can help improve documentation, but also improve the common understanding between quality management and project management, is to hold a lessons learned event at the end of each project, and for larger projects after each completed project phase. Get the documentation and quality managers together and talk about what went well and what went less well. Ask specifically what people want to change for the next phase or project. It doesn't have to be just reports, plans and forms. It can be anything that has to do with the project process. Where was it difficult to meet the requirements, where were the documents inadequate, too much, not enough, misleading or perhaps even late? And what can we do better next time? Do we need tools, training, alternative approaches or perhaps a change of approach? All of this will contribute to better mutual understanding and acceptance. The second tip, which cannot be repeated often enough, is about information. Always make sure that everyone in the team knows exactly what is expected of them. Everyone must know the documentation requirements and have the time to implement them. Don't just make the QM manual available to everyone, go through it together.


Documentation is often a controversial topic in project management because it requires additional time and resources. However, it should not be neglected. Comprehensive and orderly documentation is essential to ensure the quality of project deliverables and to identify problems at an early stage.
A structured documentation practice that meets both the requirements of ISO 9001 and the individual needs of clients and authorities is crucial. Implementing a quality management system can help to achieve consistency in documentation and reduce the amount of work involved.

Documentation in project management - the IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, Documentation

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