Home > Articles

  • Print
  • + Share This
Like this article? We recommend

Strategies for making documentation practical

Focusing on the organization's needs

Answer the following questions to determine the organization's needs for each document:

  • What goal are you trying to achieve? What role does this document play with respect to this goal?

  • What problem (or need) are you trying to solve with this document?

These questions focus you on the specific purpose of each document. Your responses scope the document and provide you with an end point (so that you don't go on and on "Filling out the template!")

In one group we observed that 50% of each requirements document contained information describing how the product was going to be built, instead of focusing on what the product was going to do for the end user. The lack of a clear goal allowed the specification to become a "catchall" document with no end point. An example goal for a requirements document is, "Capture the needs of our customers by defining the tasks they need to perform and expectations they must have met in the solution we deliver (i.e., performance and reliability targets)."

Merge duplicate work products

When project documents contain similar information, merge them together. For example, if there are three documents to complete: "Statement of Work," "Product Requirements," and "Contractual Requirements," and each will contain the same information, write one document and define the information one time. In the document, cross-reference the other two templates that this document satisfies. If there are differences in the three documents, but considerable overlap, write one set of requirements, label those items that are "Statement of Work" deliverables, and those that are "Contractual Requirements."

If you are using the SEI CMM1, merge work products together to implement specific practices. For example, a Software Configuration Management (SCM) plan, Software Quality Assurance (SQA) plan and Software Develop-ment Plan (SDP) can be merged. Milestones and activities for SCM and SQA might be listed on the master schedule in the SDP.

Remove redundancy in templates

Closely examine sections that are redundant in your templates. The template might have looked sound when first created, but during use you might find that some of the sections contain the same information. Each use of the template is an opportunity to put the template "on a diet" and delete redundant sections. For example, the requirements template in Figure 1a can be slimmed down to the template in Figure 1b when we realize that everything said in sections 1 and 4 have already been said in sections 2 and 3.

Figure 1a and 1bFigures 1a and 1b. Redundant template sections are removed.

Process documents also suffer from a lack of purpose clarity. For example, suppose you are using the SEI CMM and have been chartered to develop a process for creating project schedules (Software Project Planning activity 12). You might be tempted to build the world's greatest and most comprehensive schedule creation process, with all known "bells and whistles." In the document one could regurgitate the CMM text, include references to 15 books on the subject, and refer to "Critical Chain Analysis," (whatever that is!). The appendix could include three pages of cross-references to other models and standards.

Alternatively, ask the first question and you might decide that the goal is to determine which product features can be complete by the established delivery deadlines given the available resources. This process describes how to develop a schedule to help achieve that goal.

The second question would bring out the problem(s) you want to solve. An example is to prevent your project from chronically over-committing, causing financial loss to the company. Now write a small process to accomplish these two items. An example is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2Figure 2. A schedule creation process.

When do you stop defining this process? When your goal has been achieved (e.g., scoping the project) and your problem solved (e.g., avoiding over-commitment). Refine the document further when it no longer meets the need.

Don't have separate audit checklists that repeat the original process. Use the original process as the checklist

If you have a process assurance function that audits projects for process compliance, use the process descriptions that the projects use; don't write a separate audit checklist. Write processes (for example, estimation, schedule creation and change control) in a style that can be used for both project and audit purposes. It might be necessary to provide auditors with some additional guidance in conducting the audit and reporting the results, but it is unnecessary to duplicate the same process information in a different format.

Consider one representation

Write processes using one representation. For example, if you are creating a process for risk management, it would be redundant to have one file of presentation slides, the same process formatted using a word processor, a version in html for browsing, and the same information again using a flow diagramming tool.

Instead, determine how the process document will be used (e.g., online use by developers during project execution, or in a classroom setting with 100 people being trained). Then consider one representation that can suit all needs. For example, a presentation slide format can be printed for reading, e-mailed for sharing, presented for teaching and uploaded for browsing.

Always consider one page (small) for each process or sub-process

There are approximately 60 lines on a page and 10 words per line. That is quite a lot of information. So consider keeping process documentation to one or two pages (at least at the beginning).

How do you keep processes to one or two pages? By limiting how much detail you allow yourself to write. Unless you plan on writing forever, you have to put some limit on the document, so start with one page. When you are tempted to add more explanation and detail, refine what you have defined, don't necessarily add more sections.

A "Documented Procedure" can be the instructions embedded in a work product template

Organizations using process improvement frameworks, such as the SEI CMM and ISO9001, might be tempted to write procedures "because the framework states that they are needed." Procedure creation is often followed by creating a template to assist the procedure user (for example, a template for an SCM, SQA or project plan). Creating both a procedure and template can lead to redundancy.

An alternative approach is to imbed the instructions for completing a template in the template itself. The procedure and the template are the same document. For example, the practice in the CMM, "Create an SCM project plan according to a documented procedure," can be implemented by developing a lightweight template with imbedded instructions for use (see Figure 3).

Figure 3Figure 3. Procedure for creating an SCM plan combined with an SCMplan template.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020