Detail is good.  Too much detail is bad.  One serves its purpose, the other wastes time and money.  So how much is not enough, how much is too much, and how much it just right?  How do we know?

Every project needs documentation. Every project needs some level of status reporting. But what is the breakeven point between project expense and project benefit?  And don’t forget about customer satisfaction.  I’ve worked projects where the customer wanted to see everything on paper and other projects where they didn’t even want a regular status report – they felt it was overkill and a waste of time and money.

Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious up front what the project needs and what your customer will want and will pay for.  There’s no formula…no ready-made answer.  The obvious answers to the following questions to me are a definite ‘YES’:  Should every project have weekly status meetings?  Weekly team meetings?  A detailed project schedule revised and delivered to everyone weekly?  But on some very short projects or for some spendthrift clients, the answer may not be as clear as a definite yes.

Let’s look deeper and try to figure out what, in general, those basic necessities are:

What is critical?

What is considered essential to document the project in the early phases and throughout the ongoing portion of the project?  Is it dependent on the size of the project?  Should it be?  The answer is probably “it depends” and, ultimately, “yes.”  What if you're doing a detailed Sharepoint 2013 migration project - how much documentation is needed for that?  Planning, creating planning documents, the amount of detail put into project documentation and the amount of review and approval all takes time and project budget dollars.  A $10 million project needs extreme planning, documentation, and ongoing detailed status documentation – for compliance, to cover your hind end, and to provide the necessary information to everyone working on the project and supporting it.  Certainly, a $50,000 project may require a different level of documentation and ongoing status reporting or accountability.

It is my belief that the essential documentation items and for any project small or large are the following:

What is expendable?

There are many more documents that can be put together either officially or unofficially on a project.  The functional design document, the project charter, the project communication plan, the risk management plan, the disaster recovery plan, and the test plan to name a few.  Certainly most of these need to exist in some form or another – even if they are an email covering the topic on a very small project.  All of these MUST exist on large, detailed, and long-term projects.  Most of these can be handled somewhat informally on very small, low-visibility and low-criticality projects.  For example, you’re going to do some risk planning and issue tracking on every project – probably documented as part of the ongoing project status reporting that is performed.  But on very small projects, there likely won’t be enough dollars in the planning phases of the project to cover the creation, review and approval of a formal risk management plan.  That alone would likely cost $5k-$20k.  Certainly not worth it for a project with a budget set at $50,000.

​​​A statement of work identifying milestones, deliverables, various key project dates, assumptions, and constraints.  This document either drives much of the future planning documentation or takes the place of it – depending on the project size.

Documented and signed off project requirements. The level of detail may depend on the size of the project but keep in mind that bad requirements are bad requirements – no matter what size the project is – and bad requirements can cause any size project to fail.

- A detailed project schedule – no matter how large or small the project is – that is revised weekly and delivered weekly to the project team, the project customer, and senior management.

- The existence of detailed and regularly scheduled status reporting.

- Weekly internal team meetings just to make sure that everyone remains on the same page and that the project remains on track.

- Weekly status meetings with the client – even if they only last 10 minutes every week for a smaller project.