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Over the years, I’ve managed projects with many companies and witnessed the full spectrum of maturity with regards to the attention organizations pay to project documentation and preserving it in an archive for future use.

Some archive only hard-copy and don’t care about soft-copy – self-defeating in my opinion, it takes time to eyeball dozens of documents when looking for past examples versus a quick search. Others give half hearted attention that proper documentation is produced during the project and even less once the project is finished, yes it would nice if we had a proper online archive.  Some have great document management systems and processes but don’t enforce or monitor their use. Some do it very well using only a simple file system folder structure. Hmm, if we have a consistent structure for storing project documentation during the life of the project, the archive essentially evolves during the life of the project and it’s available for reference immediately once the project is over. For that matter, it makes sense to have the documentation of unrestricted projects available to all project managers, so they can leverage and learn from the experiences of the other projects. Sharing, opening up, not keeping things a secret –  the spirit of collaboration.

Let’s examine archives from the perspective of who, what, when, where, why, but not necessarily in that order.

Why you would archive, a number of reasons – to conduct project audits at any time, meet compliance standards, gather knowledge on project profiles for your organization to help in a number of areas, i.e. estimating. Another important ‘why’ is that there must be negative consequence to not archiving, with regards to my observations as to where it has worked successfully and where it has not. Example – a negative consequence of not producing and archiving the Projet Notebook is the project manager fails to receive signoff on the Project Compliance Audit when closing the project. What to archive would include the contents of the Project Notebook – the Charter, Work Order, Project Definition Document, Statements of Work, Vendor Agreements,  Issue Log, Risk Log, Change Requests, Schedules, Budget and Cost Sheets, Approval Documentation, Project Closure Reports, Lessons Learned, etc. (While not part of the Project Notebook, ensure all documentation from the System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) or Project Development Life Cycle (PDLC) process is also archived –  requirements, design documents, specifications, quality assurance, quality control, etc. Who produces the archive – a central body (PMO, Project Auditors) enforces the creation of the archive structure. The project manager monitors filing of all documentation. Any project team member may produce documentation. Where would you archive – using a formal document management system provides secure and shared storage of information. At minimum a standard folder structure for all projects is advisable. When is the documentation produced – enforce a Project Compliance Audit shortly into the life of the project to ensure the project manager has created or started to create the mandatory project documentation to meet Compliance to Standards. A sign-off required on a Project Management Compliance Audit at the end of the project ensures the document will be completed and filed.

So we’ve answered some basic questions about archiving – why do it, what should it include, where should it be stored, why it should be done, when to do it.

In future posts, we’ll examine each of these and provide even more insight into the value of project archives to project managers, project team members, and even senior management. This gold mine of project information is not just for the project managers.

2 Responses to “The Project Archives – A Gold Mine of Project Information”

  1. Angus says:

    Hi, I have been speaking to folks trying to establish project archives for management and heritage research purposes. I have to admit that I have yet to find a workable model so that issues of confidentiality etc are overcome. I presume what you are suggesting is for internal organizational use. Maybe there are ideas we can share with.

  2. admin says:

    Hi – my ideas are for internal organization use. Now, considering the most effective and best use I’ve seen so far – they used nothing more than the Microsoft Windows folder structure. A bit of a surprise right? Therefore, using something like Ning (see http://www.ning.com) might work for you. If you need something more sophisticated, Microsoft Sharepoint is usually the next step up for archiving. Note: I did have experience with a product called Tortoise – it’s free OpenSource, but I would recommend it only for source code management and sharing – it did not really help us much as a document archiving tool and I would not recommend it.

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