Using a project notebook is a practice we started way back in the day, before everything was electronic and digital. That means we always had a physical hard-copy notebook. Although that’s not the case in today’s world, you should still be keeping some form of a project notebook.
What is a Project Notebook?
A project notebook is a single repository where you keep all the “stuff” for a particular project. This includes documents, checklists, release notes, prototypes, acceptance forms, change request forms, etc. And ANYTHING that has your client’s signature on it, you definitely want to keep in this project notebook.
Paper or Digital?
It really doesn’t matter. Just remember these things:
- If you use physical signatures on documents, you may want to scan or “QR Code” those documents into where you store them electronically.
- If you use a combination of a hard-copy binder and electronic storage, then of course, the paper binder should include references to where everything is stored electronically.
- And all the electronic portions of the project notebook need to be backed up on a regular basis.
The minimum contents of the project notebook would be your meeting notes and acceptance forms because that’s your paper trail
If you need to go back and say “No, Mr. Customer, you agreed to this right here,” then you’ve got the actual signature on the actual document.
Benefits of Keeping a Project Notebook
Of course, during the course of the project, you have given the client copies of just about everything in the project notebook, but you also may want to compile all of those things into a final client-copy notebook to present to them at the end of the project. This serves as total documentation of their site and the project.
I’m certain you’ve heard horror stories from clients about developers that disappear and the owner of the site has absolutely no idea where everything is and absolutely no idea how it was built. You can use the project notebook deliverable as assurance to your client that this time that will not happen because everything will be documented and kept in one place.
Because most other agencies don’t provide this sort of comprehensive documentation, you can use it as a value-add deliverable to set yourself apart. And if you provide this in a hard-copy binder with your name and number on the front, they’re never going to forget who you are, because they won’t forget where that book is. They might forget what your business card is, but they’re never going to forget where that book is. That’s why I really like to use a project notebook as a client deliverable.
Serves as a Reference
If you’ve been in this business very long, you’ve probably come across a situation where you and the client disagree on what has been previously agreed upon. When people’s memories fade, you can show them exactly what was agreed upon.
Aids Continuous Improvement
You cannot improve what you cannot measure. If you don’t write down and document everything about a project, there is no way to go back to that project and do things better the next time.
One thing I do (and I still keep a physical notebook) is to put the lessons learned in the very front, because that’s the thing I’m most likely to go back and review. For example, a few years ago, I had a project where I had to combine a Weebly website, a halfway done WordPress website, and add WooCommerce with subscriptions, digital products, and physical products. Now if I get another project that is similar to that, I can go back to that book, look at those lessons learned on the first page and adjust the new project accordingly.
You naturally get better at estimating over time IF you look back at the way you did it before, and make changes where necessary.
Helps Refine Your Niche
Sometimes, if a particular project did not go well and I don’t want to do that kind of project again, I will write it on the front of the binder. That’s a reminder to myself to avoid projects that make me unhappy.
Suggested Contents of the Project Notebook
- Statement of Work (full website specification)
- Interim project estimates
- Status reports.
- Change Requests
- Acceptance forms
- Miscellaneous correspondence
- Meeting minutes
Project Notebook Best Practices
- Include tasks for updating the project notebook in the project plan – to remind you to do it and so it’s not a massive job at the end of the project.
- Include EVERYTHING that is relevant to the project – being certain to tailor the client-copy accordingly
- Crete ONE notebook per project – even if for the same client.
- Make sure all team members have access – and can upload and download as needed
Using a Project Notebook Checklist
We have a Project Notebook Checklist available for download inside the FREE membership to the WP Project Manager’s Academy.
You can join at the link below. Then look for the Project Notebook lesson inside The WordPress Project Management 101 Roadmap.
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