Project Management

Three tips about project management paperwork

Sometimes, even a practiced project manager gets tired of all the paperwork. Here are three tips for sorting out what's important to keep up on and maintaining an audit trail without going completely insane.

It's time I admitted something. I'm a project manager who hates paperwork. There, I said it. I hate paperwork. Work Breakdown Structures bore me to death. Earned value calculations induce almost instant narcoleptic episodes. And don't ask me over beer what I think of the absolute insanity we quaintly call “artifact generation and management”. The topic sends me into fits, especially when I'm in the middle of getting something done.

 

That last phrase points to the key issue. I have enough to do during the moment of execution coordinating people, process, and technology within the limits of the iron triangle. I spend all day on the phone, in people's cubes, and in one on one meetings to resolve issues. I get ahead of my team and try to knock down obstacles before they encounter them. I gather groups of people, most of whom I've never met, to make decisions on things no one really understand. That's the immediate job of project management and I like it.

 

However, immediate success does not translate into long term sustainability. Getting the product out the door has almost nothing to do with whether or not you know what you did, why you did it, and what you forgot to do six months down the road. This is even more true of project management than it is of coding and hacks; with a hack you have a particular solution whereas in project management all you have, really, is agreements between people about what seems important at a given moment. If we do not record those agreements they vanish when people's memory changes.

 

Great, more airy theory from the project whisperer. What, exactly, does hating paperwork but wanting to record the agreements we reach mean in practical terms? For me, it means three separate things:

 

  1. I ask my project coordinator to help me keep a project diary. We sit down at a fixed time each day and rehash the day's events. It takes thirty minutes but helps to put everything into perspective. It forces me to organize me thoughts into a coherent narrative. It retouches on the day's events, so that we both know what's going on. It also creates a historical record of what transpired, so if a question comes up later we can go hunting for it rather than trying to remember.

  2. I make sure each milestone has at least one useful supporting artifact. Not every phase, which seems to be the auditing trend, but every milestone. Every important achievement, every real gain, in project management comes as the result of painstaking negotiations. Failing to record those agreements in addition to acknowledging their success means the milestone itself becomes open to renegotiation.

  3. I go over the final agreements with my project sponsors and business users at the end of the project. These final agreements include both what we did do and what we will try to do in the next release. In many cases, the second is more important than the first. It's easy for people to see what we did do, but promises tend to get inflated as the months pass and people start to think about how great the “next thing” will become.

 

Time to go see what negotiations the next week will bring. I'm sure they will look just as complex as this weeks did, from the outside at least. Somehow in the moment it all makes sense.

 

11 comments
projectmb
projectmb

If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen. Documentation is part of a PM's life. It seems you have not learned the optimum means to handle documentation. Too bad. Move on to something else exciting like programming or knitting. Oh Yeah, leave any additinal PM pay behind.

patclem
patclem

Check out the book "Agile Project Management." Analyzes the balance between Compliance activity versus Value activity. Sometimes projects end up with too much Compliance activity - project teams (including those doing the work) get bogged down in status reports, timesheets, filling out forms, etc. instead of writing code, solving problems, installing boxes, whatever. The key is balance.

admin
admin

You aren't a project manager, you are a firefighting project chaser, a reactor. If you don't have a WBS, what do you have? Thoughts in outerspace? These aren't even tips you've made; they are explanations of why you sound so stressed and out of control.

pmaina2000
pmaina2000

You better have some paper to cover you... People forget. Sometimes innocently. Other times "conveniently" and "selectively". Document the "happy times". Then you'll have some company during the "sad times". Otherwise... you'll be a very lonely person *when* the brownies start flying!

kaffe
kaffe

Have a look at what Donald Schon says about reflection: http://educ.queensu.ca/~ar/schon87.htm I have been planning to use a reflective journal but never seem to find the time. Is it worth the time? I have studied some cognition psychology and have understood that a reflective journal can also help in debiasing the many cognitive biases we humans have. Thanks for your blog. /Patrik Johansson

ProblemSolverSolutionSeeker
ProblemSolverSolutionSeeker

It would be downright scary for you to know what the hackers think of you. But I guess we all accept PM as a necessary evil. I just hope you are not guilty of some of the shenanigans I have seen in my illustrious career. Creepy. Good luck to you. Really! If you see someone with a large stake and a cross, run! :)

Chas M
Chas M

Amen to that kgbean. Especially in small projects in large organisations project administration overhead results in increased costs for no tangible benefit. Bottom line -- no value added = don't do it !!

Harry.Hiles
Harry.Hiles

Great point! Balancing paperwork with product work is key to keeping projects on target. It seems Toni's (and everyone's) biggest constraint is time. Appropriate documentation is important and should not be compromised due to lack of resources. As a PM, I've hired a project lead in the past to help me with some of the project "chores" in danger of being compromised. I also like Toni's project journal/diary approach and have used it myself. It really helps clarify your thouhgts before communicating them to the project team and stakeholders.

pmtk724
pmtk724

He didn't say he refused to do a WBS...he said he hated doing it. Of course a WBS is necessary. How else would anyone be able to plan schedule, resource, and budget. All is well...take a deep breath. The daily log is a great idea. I do it myself and have never received a complaint from anyone for doing it. When a question arises from an executive sponsor, the first place I go is to the journal. This blog is about what works for delivering project results as primary focus.

meryllogue
meryllogue

Take a look at Toni's spelling, and her photo. (Your pronouns....)