Project Practitioners > CYA - Cover Your Ass

CYA - Cover Your Ass

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


Last week, the topic was getting stuff done. In the end, that is the focal point of project management. Getting projects completed under budget, on time, and within scope. That is the cake of project management. The icing is documentation. In other words, you are covering your ass.


When it comes to closing out a project, people love to nickel and dime. Who did what when? Why was this so much? Who said two people could perform that work? Only one day was allotted for that activity. Why does the invoice state for three days?


All of these complications seem to pop up when it comes time to pay. Everyone gets out their microscopes and starts to analyze every detail trying to pin the blame on someone else for the delay or attempting to squeeze those last percentage points out of a vendor.


Documentation becomes important during these disputes. Who said you could replace the oven for $700? The owner and here is the email stating as such. Why were two people used for the installation? Because the situation called for two people and here are the pictures to prove it.


There is nothing sweeter than an email with some photos attached to shut people up and sign the check.


How can a project manager document better?



  1. Prioritize

Make documentation a scheduled activity that needs to get done. No other option. Every Tuesday afternoon, you update your documentation. Sit down, send the emails, take the notes, and review. The upfront work makes the closing that much easier.


You have the owner approval email stating to move forward at that cost under those circumstances. You have the vendor voicemail stating the shipment will not be in until next week delaying the project because of a fault on their end.


Every phone call gets a follow-up email to confirm what was said during the conversation. Texts never get deleted. Screenshots get stored. All communication, especially with a known headache source, gets tracked, pinned, labeled, and so on. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Some people do not learn their lesson until being fooled for decades.


Prioritizing documentation brings it to the forefront of you and your team’s minds. Priorities signal importance. If documentation is a priority in your organization and on your team, the importance of it never gets stressed enough. All it takes is one time for someone to dispute a cost, and you not having the communication stating differently, for documentation to become a priority.


  1. Make Documentation Accessible

Shared email accounts or a Dropbox account are examples of ways to make it easy for multiple users to update. Rather than all bombarding your inbox with updates, team members can access the documentation folder and update it themselves.


The person responsible for the activity should be the one updating the activity. No second- or thirdhand accounts of the story. The person answering the phone updates the activity based on the conversation.


Shared email accounts are an easy way for everyone to monitor the project. Keep subject lines obvious and threads ongoing. No reason to start a new email for every response. Some tenants will open new work orders to comment on an old work order only confusing the situation. If the updates stay within the same work order from start to finish, there is a chain of comments related to the activity making it easy to see what got done when.


  1. Templates

Make all communication look similar so people know where to find things. This templated messaging system not only helps the receiver to find the information quicker but also allows other team members the ability to search a message quickly.


Don’t put nuances in section 1 on one document then in section 4 on the other. Templates should not have nuance. They should be straightforward. Section 1 is for project description only. Section 2 is for contact information. Section 3 is a vendor list. If this is how the first document looks, this is how the last document should look. The same folder should be used for all of these documents.


The idea is to have the ability to take a layperson off of the street, introduce them to your process, and have them follow it easily. A step-by-step guide can be created when templates are used. The words and punctuation can vary because we are humans and do not speak robot, but the information should share the same locations.




Getting work done is great. Performing work and not getting paid accordingly is a nightmare. Documentation solves this closing out headache.


Prioritizing documentation ensures it occurs. Block out time daily, weekly, monthly, or however you want to do it. Let one scheduled meeting slip by and all of a sudden a project is completed and all the documentation you have is from the kickoff meeting.


Make the documents accessible. All team members involved should have the ability to update from anywhere. A central location for these documents should also exist. No reason to have three different folders for the same project.


Lastly, use and abuse templates. Copy and paste are your friends. Work smarter not harder. Documentation can be a pain so do not make it any more difficult than it needs to be. A simple ‘yes’ from an owner or a contractor can make getting paid a breeze.


People can be wolves in sheep’s clothes. Cover your ass.

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