Documents as a Means, Not an End

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Documents Are A Means, Not An End

Patrick Kua London, United Kingdom

Eisenhower once said, "Plans are worthless. Planning is essential." Successful project managers understand how to reap the benefits from planning without the overhead of meticulously updating their plans in minute detail. They actively use documents to help spark meaningful conversations, not as the replacement for all communication methods. Or worse yet, use documents as a way of pointing out when people breach an agreement.

Planning and tracking will remain essential activities for a project manager, though always framed in the context of achieving a particular goal. Many organizations (incorrectly) measure project managers on how well they stick to a plan, or how thoroughly a particular set of documents have been completed, distributed, and archived.

In organizations that misunderstand planning, project managers are asked, “How accurately did you meet the plan?" Beware of enterprises that ask this micro-management centered question instead of the more important question, "Did you deliver the most value in the desired timeframe?" Value may be judged as achieving the right goal within a given budget, delighting customers, or exceeding expectations. With the wrong yardstick in hand, sometimes it's all too easy to forget what the end goal truly is intended to be.

Focusing on just developing plans and the perfect set of documents creates a false sense of progress and accomplishment. It implies that the execution of the plan is the easy part and that the plans are accurate, both of which are hardly ever the case.

I have seen project managers try to enforce that everyone participating in the project must keep to the activities and schedule recorded in the original plan. They fail to realize that as they recognize changing conditions it would be more useful would be to lead the team in re-planning activities based on these new circumstances.

Plans and documents contain essential information for a business to meet its goals. However, the plans and documents by themselves are actually quite useless. They need people to act upon the results they highlight and for someone to convey the information they contain to other parties who would then benefit from the knowledge.

Therefore, it is always important to consider what is the right level of information to be passed on and what the best method is for delivering the information to other parties concerned with the outcome of this project. Documents are often the poorest choices to use to convey important data. The richest level of communication is face-to-face.

Project managers also have the unenviable job of maintaining the delicate balance between the overhead need to meet traceability or auditing requirements and other non-document-centric activities that ultimately add value to a project's end goal.

Successful project managers do just enough planning, capture just enough detail, realize that issues will invariably arise as the project progresses, and recognize when plans need to change because of new or unanticipated needs. They remember that the documents from the planning process are the means to a well-run project, not an end on in and of themselves.

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