What are the characteristics of good project documentation?

What are the characteristics of good project documentation? I've know there's such a thing as too much documentation, but what does the documentation on successful projects look like?
You can't predict a project's probability of success by its documentation, but reading the documents will give you a sense for how well the project team keeps itself organized and updated. A common characteristic of successful, fast-moving projects is "animated" documentation—documents that live and breathe along with the project throughout its many changes.

An animated document grows and evolves as the team gathers fresh information about the project's goals, requirements, and solution definition, and progress is made. Animated project planning documents maintain a running account of decisions, course corrections, and tweaked goals. For example, as new details are gathered, and new risks are revealed, the risk analysis documents should evolve in sync. Meanwhile, the requirements documents must be continually fine-tuned as market conditions, customers, competition, economics, and technology hurl change after change in the project's path.

A nimble, quick document revision process will enable you to record the changes quickly and efficiently. Don't use your organization's full-featured configuration management system to manage the documents for your development project. These big, enterprise-level systems are complex and deliberately bureaucratic, to guard stable production documents from being changed by people without sufficient knowledge or authority. These systems are much too cumbersome to handle the frequent changes of the more volatile project-level documents. For these reasons, it's best to keep your project documentation in your own streamlined revision control system, and release the documents into the larger configuration management system only as they stabilize toward the end of the project.

When the contents of key documents change, you should alert the appropriate team members and stakeholders, but don't burden your document revision process with too many signatures or too much bureaucracy. Also, don't mandate that the documents be "frozen" at any point in the project. When the plans, requirements, or specs must change, frozen documents can steer the project toward the wrong goal, or render the document useless. The document will then be abandoned, adding unnecessary risks to the project.











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