Documentation is a key feature of all formal processes. This documentation is a key process output, but it also facilitates the operation of the process, and it provides a means of assessing the performance of the process. All project managers are aware of the importance of documentation for effective project management. Formal RMPs require appropriate documentation for all these basic and common reasons, but it is especially important because of the need to deal with uncertainty in terms of both variability and ambiguity. This can include information in a wide variety of forms: describing designs, activities, sources of uncertainty, responses, decisions taken, identified trigger points, and so on. Such documentation might be regarded as a by-product of project risk management, rather than a central concern, but it serves a number of useful purposes that may be worth pursuing in their own right:
1. Clearer thinking. A focus on documentation can clarify the initial thinking process. If people have to set down their thinking in writing, this forces clarification of what is involved.
2. Clearer communications. Documentation can provide an unambiguous vehicle for communication at any given point in time. If people explain what they mean in terms of designs and activities, sources of uncertainty and responses, and in writing in detail, the scope for misunderstanding is significantly reduced. This can be particularly important in communications between different organizational units or in client-contractor situations. In such settings a number of questions concerning the risk management effort need to be addressed. For example: who is responsible for which activities?, who bears the financial consequences of which sources?, and who will respond to realization of shared sources? Clear documentation can also be an essential part of making all threats and opportunities and all key assumptions clearly visible to all interested parties. A key role for any formal analysis process is the collective use of team input to a joint decision, drawing on a range of expertise as appropriate. Communication is a vital aspect of this process.
3. Familiarization. Documentation can provide a record to assist new project team members to 'get up to speed' quickly. Staff turnover on a project can be a significant source of risk, which documentation helps to mitigate. Risk management documentation is a very valuable training tool specific to the project to which new staff are attached.
4. A record of decisions. Documentation can provide a record that explains the rationale for key decisions. In some industries (and for some careers), this may become a very important document if a decision goes badly wrong due to bad luck, as illustrated by Example 3.1 (see p. 37).
5. A knowledge base. Documentation can provide a record that captures corporate knowledge in a manner useful for subsequent similar project teams. If the kernel of the thinking behind one project is available in a readily accessible form for those doing the next project, the value of this information can be very great. For contracting organizations this information can amount to a competitive advantage over rival firms. Such information can also be the basis of ongoing training as well as an individual learning tool, and a basis for fundamental research.
6. A framework for data acquisition. When organizations first introduce a formal RMP, appropriate data are usually difficult to come by. However, the use of a formal RMP clarifies the nature of appropriate data and generally leads to the systematic collection and appreciation of such data, as part of the documentation process. The importance of this development is difficult to understand for organizations that have not been through the process of introducing a formal
RMP, but it is recognized as a major benefit by those who have introduced such processes. It is important to ask whether this issue is relevant upfront, because it means the current lack of data that could be collected in the future does not distort the development of an approach that best serves long-term needs.
If only the first of these six purposes is of interest, limited documentation may be appropriate. However, the other purposes deserve careful prior attention, even if the design of the documentation has a fairly free format. The key underlying purpose of documentation is to integrate the expertise of teams of people so they can make effective, collective decisions based on clearly articulated premises.
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