How Detailed Do We Need to Be? – Part 1

how detailed do we need to beA project is a project, right? Well, sort of. But it does stand to reason that not every engagement needs to be managed to the same level of detail. Certainly a $5,000 two-week project doesn’t require the same up front planning and detailed documentation that a $5 million two-year project requires.

It is true, however, that every project needs documentation. Every project needs some level of status reporting. I think we can all agree to that statement as well. The question is – how much is enough? What is the breakeven point between project expense and project benefit? Beyond what point are we just burning through the project budget with our planning and documentation and not providing any additional benefit for the project, the customer, and those who may service or support the solution – or even take the project through a future phase? When have we hit that wall?

Unfortunately, there is no formula…no ready-made answer. What about ongoing information and effort on the project? Should every project have weekly status meetings? Weekly team meetings? A detailed project schedule revised and delivered to everyone weekly? How much is too much effort for the size of the project? After all, project management effort costs project dollars. From my experience in professional services organizations, the project manager is often billed out at the highest rate on the team – the tech leads and architects are usually a cheaper client billable hourly rate than the project manager.

What is essential?

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.” 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.

I believe that the essential level for any project – whether it lasts for three months or three years and whether it costs $10,000 or $10 million – are:

  • 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.
  • The existence of detailed and regularly scheduled status reporting.
  • Weekly status meetings with the client – even if they only last 10 minutes every week for a smaller project.
    Weekly internal team meetings just to make sure that everyone remains on the same page and that the project remains on track.
  • 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.

In Part 2 of this two-part series, we will continue to look at what is essential and what can potentially be skipped over – and please share your own opinions on this topic at the conclusion of this series. Thanks!

Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland

Noteworthy accomplishments:
*20 year provider of successful technical project management leadership for clients across nearly every industry imaginable
*Author of more than 4,000 expert professional project management and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos over the past decade
*Articles/professional content receives over 40,000 page views monthly
*Named #1 in the 100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management
*Named a Top 10 Project Management Influencer to Follow in 2016
*The most read author of expert project management content on Project Times/BA Times for 2015
*Named most prolific provider of project management content over the past 5 years
*Noted for successful project management and financial oversight for $50 million Dept. of Education financial contract/program
*Chosen by the Dept of Defense as a subject matter expert (SME) to help select IWMS software provider for the largest IWMS implementation ever awarded

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