Make Your Documents Work for You

I've spent a chunk of today performing Seed exit vivas. This is where students on our industrial placement module have to come along and explain why they should get 5 out of 5 for Project Management. Or whatnot. We discuss things for 45 minutes or so and finally agree on figures for each marking category. Sometimes the figure goes down, but in a surprising number of cases we end up delivering the happy news that we think that they have undervalued their work. Which is nice.

One thing I like to do is point at pages that have been supplied as part of the thick folder of documents and ask "What's that for?". This can be quite illuminating. For example:

"What's that for?"
"It's the Risk Analysis."
"OK, where did it come from?"
"Well, at the start of the project we wrote down all the risks we could think of, and that's the result."
"Did you ever look at it again?"
"No. Should we?"

.. at which point the conversation goes downhill a little bit. Risks should be identified and then tracked over the project. At regular intervals the document should have been produced and checked over to make sure that nothing has changed, and that none of the risks were becoming critical. 

If you are going to take the trouble to make a document that is part of your development then you are making an investment in your time. It is important that the investment pays off. Documents should "earn their keep".

The Risk Analysis document should be checked and updated at regular intervals to make sure that risks are managed. Minutes of meetings should record who was there, what was said, give people actions and check on actions from earlier meetings. Specifications should be signed off. Tests documents should be acted on and then the results of the tests recorded and used to drive future development. I could go on (and in fact I did - quite a bit). 

I got the feeling that some of the documents were shoved in "because we thought we had to write them". I also got the feeling that some folk thought that writing all this was a distraction from the proper job, which was creating the solution for the customer. However, this is very, very, important stuff. It can make the difference between success and failure in a project. And doing it right will definitely get you higher grades....