Can you over-document?

How can I tell if we are generating too much documentation? Can you over-document?
It is possible to have too much of a good thing, even something as valuable as documentation. Short answer: yes, you can over-document, and not just because some people would rather eat sand than write the docs. But that doesn't mean you can bypass the documents entirely. The trick is to strike a balance.

Every project document should carry its own weight—it should add real value to the project. You can test this by asking these questions about each document:

  • Does the process of creating the document encourage critical, creative thinking? Does it help you understand, structure, and plan the project's goals, risks, and constraints?
  • Does the document provide a "memory bin" that will help you manage the details that can't be kept in people's heads?
  • Does the document help inform and synchronize the team and stakeholders?
  • If the document's usefulness still seems questionable, is it required by regulation or contract?

If the document passes at least the first three tests, you can be sure it's providing value and will be updated as the project matures—what is sometimes called a "living document." Failing just one test will limit the document's value. That's because, unless it continues to benefit the project, it will have no more lasting value than yesterday's news.

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