Is there a minimum amount of documentation a project should have?

What is the appropriate level of documentation for my project? Is there a minimum amount of documentation a project should have?
It's difficult to give a general rule for the minimum documentation required to adequately manage a project. If you're building a commercial airliner, you'll need dramatically different documentation than if you're planning a wedding. However, there are five documentation areas that every project—extreme or conservative, large or small—should cover in some form or another, to avoid unacceptable project risks. Projects that include only the minimum level of documentation (as noted in the What column in the table below) are relatively light on details and will therefore have an increased level of risk. The column titled "Next Level of Documentation" suggests a deeper level of documentation to further reduce risks. You may need to vary the level of documentation for different aspects based on your project's unique environment, risk profile, and complexity.

What When Next Level of Documentation
Project Vision
(the "what")
Very early. Should be one of the first documents created. Update and review it often throughout the project. Requirements Document. A Project Vision will have only a few high-level critical requirements. Creating a requirements document will give you additional detail on the "what" of the project, and a more thorough checklist to help ensure design completeness later on. We have templates and guidelines for a variety of requirement documents for several different kinds and sizes of projects.
Task List
(the "how")
During detailed planning, after the vision has been agreed to. Refer to it constantly during the project. May be used as a progress-reporting tool. Work Breakdown Structure. The structured critical thinking required to create a WBS will help you generate a more complete task list. This doesn't have to be a complicated process; see our examples of creating a simple WBS to manage a holiday dinner or gift shopping. For more complex projects that do require detailed schedules, check out our series of Planning and Scheduling guidelines.
Resource List
(the "who")
Start naming key people early. Complete the resource list during detailed planning, and refer to it constantly during the project. Roles and Responsibilities (R&R) list. List your resources by name, and clarify their responsibilities to elicit commitment by the named resources. The R&R list will also help you identify any resource gaps in detail. For even more detail regarding the dependencies between resources, create a Responsibility Allocation Matrix that asks team members not only what they will do, but what they will need, from whom, and when.
Milestone Schedule
(the "when")
During detailed planning, after a vision has been agreed to. Used as a principal tracking, control, and progress-reporting tool. Detailed task schedules. Task schedules that include dependencies and resource leveling will help you identify any hidden and derived tasks; focus attention on the critical path; and track project progress. See the Planning and Scheduling guidelines mentioned above.
Qualitative Risk Analysis
(See our Risk Assessment and Mitigation Tables for an example.)
Start very early. Continually revisit, adding new risks and updating progress on mitigations. Quantitative Risk Analysis. Scoring the probability of risk occurrence, probability of detection, and severity will help you define and prioritize the mitigations.

Detailed Project Plan. A readable narrative overview that describes all project activities, it can help stimulate thinking about and identification of possible project and product risks. See our Initiation Phase page for examples of several different kinds of project plans.

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