Three Simple Ways to Reduce Project Paperwork

Three ways to reduce project paperworkEveryone can agree that processes are vital to a project’s success. Documentation is, of course, a necessary part of this. But what happens when this growing wave of paperwork gets to a critical level ‚Äì and starts to seriously impact on the actual delivery of the project? Have you ever heard of a project being launched while its colossal Project Charter still circulates around stakeholders, sluggishly looking for a final sign off? I have. There are ways of helping to stem the tide of paperwork that may be causing you headaches…

Choose the right process

Every project is different. So choosing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ process, no matter the size just doesn’t make sense.

For smaller projects, you should be using a simpler process, especially if you’ve entrusted a smaller project to inexperienced project managers. A simpler process demands less documentation (and is much easier to follow for rookie project managers, or even experienced project managers who have a lot of other paperwork-heavy projects on their plate).

Smaller projects (as a minimum) could potentially only need:

  • A Project Initiation Document: This (again as a minimum) would cover the purpose; objectives; key requirements relating to scope, time and cost; major milestones (if known at that stage) and a list of project team members.
  • A log of stakeholder requirements: This should only include the list of stakeholders and their requirements.
  • A Project Scope: a clear list of the deliverables. Rather than creating a separate Work Breakdown Structure, you could just break down the deliverables in the scope for ease and simplicity.
  • A schedule: a list of the tasks, how long they will take, the key milestones and the end date. A Gantt chart is ideal for this.
  • A retrospective report: This may seem counter-intuitive. “Surely this is unnecessary if you’re wanting me to cut out bureaucracy,” you may ask? In fact, having a clear view of what went well and what could have been better will make your future projects run more smoothly. And projects that run more smoothly will generally demand less paperwork.

Of course, all that depends on the circumstances of your particular project. You may initially think that your particular project needs one or two other pieces of documentation. But when making this decision, its worth stepping back first and asking – is this really necessary for a project this size?

Don’t over-report

There is a balance between under-reporting and over-reporting to your stakeholders. Too much and they just won’t pay attention. Too little and they will be left in the dark. They may end up looking for more information from you than they would have originally been satisfied with. Either way, you may end up creating more documentation than you really need.

To report project status, try using the Red, Amber, Green system. It should be enough for most stakeholders.

  • Red for ‘you need to help deal with this’
  • Amber for ‘There’s an issue you need to be aware of, but we’re dealing with it’
  • Green for ‘Everything is on track’


Meetings are inevitable in projects. You could have strategy meetings, scope meetings, project planning meetings, project kick-off meetings, status meetings, stakeholder meetings, risk identification meetings, change control meetings and finally retrospectives, among others.

That’s a lot of hours sitting in a room taking minutes.

Instead, why not try to cut the number of meetings. For smaller projects, you could get away with just four different types:

  • A stakeholder meeting
  • A scope meeting
  • Status meetings (see above)
  • A retrospective

By cutting the unnecessary meetings not only do you save time from the meeting itself, but you also score a double whammy of not needing to take minutes for each. In fact, for each of those meetings, you shouldn’t really be taking painstaking details of what every person said. Instead, you should focus on only noting the actions required and what you have agreed. Everything else should be unnecessary.


No doubt there are many other ways to trim the fat from the bureaucracy. It’s a question of mindset, as well as common sense. If you’re working on a sizable project, then you’ll be following a more comprehensive process, with the increased documentation that goes along with it. But if it’s smaller, try asking yourself regularly when you’re planning and delivering: what do I really need to document?

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Gary Atkinson

Gary Atkinson is managing editor of the company MindGenius, a visual project management tool.