James Murray, the famed creator of one of the world’s most comprehensive reference books, the Oxford English Dictionary, had rooms filled with paper. Correspondents from all over the world sent him thousands of pieces of research on the etymologies of words. A single word alone could generate 10,000 pieces of correspondence. Murray’s workrooms were an overwhelming scene of clutter (do not let that tidy photo of him fool you).

Unless you are working on the creation of a history-making dictionary, no project requires that level of documentation. The problem, however, is that some teams believe excess documentation is necessary for every project.

Overcommitting to too much information hurts productivity and draws time and energy away from the actual project. When it becomes obvious that these documents are hard to maintain, they are usually abandoned. That creates another problem: Incomplete documents are misleading and can paint an inaccurate picture of what happened.

Instead of aspiring to be exhaustive, document only what is absolutely necessary. Early in the project process, identify the data that can feasibly be maintained so that when your team comes to the end, you will have a document that’s up to date and provides an accurate picture of the project.

Key Takeaways

  • Identify only the key elements of data that need to be documented
  • Overcommitting on documentation can be counter-productive
  • Only document what you can maintain
  • Updating documents should be built into the flow of the project plan