Agile Project Management Tips #9: Keep a Project Diary

All of the previous tips have provided ways to increase project visibility, participation, and collaboration. Those ideas were designed for a disparate audience: the team, managers, other employees, customers, and executives. This last idea, however, is to help you collaborate with one specific person: your future self.

Keeping a log of activities is not a new idea. Projects were tracked when Stone Age people drew pictures of a hunt on cave walls. Most tracking consists of structured metrics used to show managers and executives that the project is on target for the impending future release. Keeping a diary, however, is a way to track where the project has been.

A daily diary, like a personal diary, is meant for your eyes, and should be written for you as the audience. It can contain many bits of information that might not incorporate well into the project process. For example, if you have a complicated email exchange, do not leave it in your email client. Spend time extracting the exchange into paragraphs and annotate with pertinent details. Paste everything into the diary, and date it. Later, when someone asks, “What were we thinking at the time?” the diary will act as a personal reference to jog your memory.

Another use of a diary is to note exceptional efforts by team members. If someone on the team has a shining moment, make a note of it in your project diary. For supervisory staff who write employee performance reviews or provide feedback to Human Resources for employee assessments, these examples in the diary will prevent a lot of head scratching later and will benefit everyone.

Some activities to write down are

  • Hallway Conversations
  • Complex email threads
  • Reasons for decisions
  • Exceptional efforts by team members
  • Gut feelings or intuitions about the project

The benefits are
  • Helps answer the question "What were we thinking at the time?"
  • During retrospectives, the diary can help you prepare your notes.
  • Helps if you have to contribute toward employee evaluations
  • Provides a "long tail", some thing to give you a history
Most importantly, the project diary is a way to provide a history for you. After many projects, you may wonder what you have accomplished, and how you got there. Since the diary entries were personal for you, you can include ideas, guesses, feelings and emotions among the timeline and events. Years later, when you recognize a situation, the project diary provides a reference, of not only how the situation was handled, but also your thoughts at the time.