Establishing processes and procedures for conclusive project documentation and maintaining proper documentation of written and verbal communications, meetings, decisions, etc. is a vital part of successful project management. Conducting conclusive documentation serves several important functions: it helps you remember project goals as well as objectives and important decisions, track and monitor project progress, and gain insight into performance and its causation. It also improves knowledge management and organizational learning. Therefore, documentation helps you to prepare for, and ultimately address, challenging situations that may arise during project implementation, such as disputes that cause delays, uncontrolled changes to the project’s scope, resistance to change, etc.
See our practical experiences, lessons learned, and recommendations below.
Why you should care
Conclusive documentation can provide you with factual support and help you stay consistent in challenging situations.
What really matters: Lessons learned & recommendations
Document, document, document. And get it signed!
Sanitation projects take time and are subjects to sensitive political dynamics. This means that over time, people may change their position and decisions regarding the project. In the case of ISSRAR, several community members initially supported the selected location and even signed a support letter for the project. At a later point, some of the letter’s signees began to oppose the location. Unfortunately, the exact location was not specified in the support letter, which provided opportunity for a group of people to argue that they supported the project itself, but not its specific location. Resolving this situation came at a significant cost in effort and resources. Another case was related to a personnel change on the side of the project owner, as the project’s focal point, with whom the team had agreed on all decisions, was replaced by another person. Detailed and formally signed documentation of all meetings and decisions provided continuity to the project implementation, as proof that the project direction had been legitimized beforehand existed in written form.
This is why writing detailed minutes of meetings with the project counterpart, community representatives and other key project stakeholders – and getting them signed – is vitally important. You’ll want to make sure that decisions are documented in as much detail as possible. Whenever numerous people participate in meetings, you should include attendance sheets. This is particularly important in cases where you may need to prove that there was adequate representation in decision-making processes. Furthermore, attendance sheets are helpful if you need to follow-up with any participants. Thorough documentation will allow you to produce evidence of stakeholder engagement and the decisions that have been made along the way. This way, you will have written proof at your disposal if it ever becomes necessary – which it most certainly will!
Collect official letters and approvals
Official letters help document your compliance with formal requirements. Make sure that you obtain them at the outset of the project, starting with the official announcement of the project by the ministry that owns the project. This usually goes hand in hand with an official letter that is sent to other public institutions requesting them to put their support behind your project. Other official letters that were particularly important in the case of ISSRAR included, among others: a task facilitation letter from the project owner (Ministry of Water and Irrigation, MWI) at the outset of the project sent to all relevant ministries, approvals on submitted reports (parameter report, design report, drawings), land allocation correspondences, Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) letters to the Ministry of Environment (MoE), and tax exemption. To learn about the correct timing of obtaining the necessary official letters for your project, you can inquire with organizations that have implemented similar projects to yours, consult with your counterpart, and ask anyone else who you believe may provide you with relevant information.
Internal work flows, decisions and acquired knowledge
Cases of extended sick leave and/or staff turnover are inevitable in many sanitation projects. If a key information holder is missing in action, being able to effectively continue ongoing work can save significant resources and prevent further delays in project implementation.
Adequate internal documentation requires a range of measures. Since they are helpful in case of staff absences but also serve various other purposes, we consider it worthwhile to put the following measures in place:
- Shared (cloud-based) filling system with a clear folder structure.
- Specifying communication channels that will be available for exchange among the team members (skype, teams, zoom, WhatsApp groups, live documents, etc.)
- Weekly meetings for the project team to ensure all its members are up to date
- Internal filing of summaries of all external and formal internal meetings
- Internal reports detailing approaches and results of all work packages and activities
- Encouraging exchanges across different sub-teams on new topics that require brainstorming
- Encouraging staff to summarize the outcomes of more informal meetings in follow-up e-mails
Internal monthly update reports that include all major updates in each work area as well as the next steps - to be shared with all staff
- Have you established an effective documentation process allowing you to e.g. keep detailed, written records of communications, meetings, decisions, etc.?
- Have you collected and filed all official letters and approvals to show that you complied with formal requirements?
- Do you have adequate internal documentation processes that support knowledge management and organizational learning and allow others to pick-up on tasks in case the responsible team member is not available?