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Manage Project Artifacts: What to Create and How to Keep them Current

Manage Project Artifacts: What to Create and How to Keep them Current

Projects produce all sorts of things, in addition to the deliverables we commission them to create. These are project artifacts. And you need to keep on top of them, or they will threaten to overwhelm you. So, we will look at how you can best manage project artifacts on your projects.

Most projects produce a load of stuff…

Mainly:

  • Primary deliverables
  • Secondary and enabling deliverables
  • Documentation

PMI and the Need to Manage Project Artifacts

You need to keep control of them and manage them. This is a topic that PMI has thrown a spotlight onto. In the Examination Content Outline (ECO) for its premiere Project Management qualification, Project Management Professional (PMP), the PMI suggests Project Managers need to know how to:

  • Determine the requirements (what, when, where, who, etc) for managing the project artifacts.
  • Validate that the project information is kept up to date (ie version control) and accessible to all stakeholders.
    [I’d add: ‘subject to confidentiality and security requirements, where appropriate’]
  • Continually assess the effectiveness of the management of the project artifacts.

These are the three enablers of Task 12: Manage Project Artifacts. This is in the Process domain of the PMP exam syllabus.

Manage Project Artifacts: What to Create and How to Keep them Current

Our Exploration of Project Management Artifacts

But this is relevant to all Project Managers. And not just to those working within the constraints of PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide).

So, we will look at:

Definition: What are Project Artifacts?

I would define a Project Artifact as something the project produces.

The Origin of the Word Artifact

In the UK, artifact is spelled artefact, and the word comes from two Latin words:

  • Ars: skill
  • Facere: to make

Hence: arte factum: something made by skill.

The PMBOK 7 Definition

Therefore, I really like the simplicity of the definition of a project artifact that the 7th Edition of the PMBOK Guide gives us…

An artifact can be a template, document, output, or project deliverable

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Seventh Edition
The Standard for Project Management, section 4.1
The Project Management Institute, 2021

The glossary definition is very similar – if a touch more didactic. However, the term ‘artifact’ is not defined in the Glossary to PMBOK 6.

The PMBOK 6 Definition

But, in section 1.11, Tailoring the Project Artifacts, of the 2017 Standard for Project Management, we find:

The term artifact in this context [Tailoring the Project Artifacts] includes project management processes, inputs, tools, techniques, outputs, EEFs, and OPAs.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, Sixth Edition
The Standard for Project Management, section 11.1
The Project Management Institute, 2017

Note that this is a wider definition that PMBOK 7 has pared down. However, as is happening a lot lately, I prefer to side with the PMBOK 7 authors in this. Because their definition of an artifact is clearer and more precise. I would interpret the PMBOK 7 definition of a Method (rather than their definition of an artifact) to include processes, tools, techniques, and OPAs.

Decode the Jargon

OPA: Organizational Process Asset

EEF: Enterprise Environmental Factor

EEFs don’t seem to fit the descriptor of project artifact at all – they seem to me to be more like constraints or dependencies. 

The challenge for PMP candidates is that the PMP ECO was written at a time when PMBOK 6 was all we had!

Examples of Project Artifacts

As you’d expect, there are very many examples of Project Artifacts.

PMBOK 7 lists:

PMBOK 6 has a large table of 33 example Project Documents (Table 1-2 of the Standard for Project Management – page 559). Here are some other examples:

What Artifacts do we Need? 

One of the most important aspects of tailoring your project approach and process to the needs of the project itself is your choice of project artifacts. And, whilst a project plan is often your master artifact (in a predictive or hybrid project environment), it will often have many components. Each component is an artifact in itself.

And there are other documents too, which are not part of a project plan. These include tools like your risk register and change request documentation.

Of course, we have a full-length article, Project Documentation: Do You Know the 7 Keys to Getting it Right? We wrote this to help you understand which documentation to select for your project. And we have a 12-minute video that summarizes a lot of that article:

Nader Rad and Frank Turley’s P3.express

I discuss essential project artifacts in my interview with Nader Rad. This is about his and Frank Turley’s open-source, lightweight Project Management methodology, P3.express. In P3.express, there are four essential project artifacts:

  1. Deliverable Map
  2. Project Description
  3. Follow-up Register
  4. Health Register

Do watch my interview with Nader Rad to find out what they mean by each of these terms and why they consider these to be the 4 essential documents.

Version Control

Version control is how we manage multiple variations of the same document. It is an essential component of how we manage project artifacts.

This lets us keep a clear record of how the document was created, developed, and changed over time. It provides a clear audit trail of:

  • what changes we made
  • who made them
  • and who approved them

Please do review our video on How to Maintain Document Version Control on Your Project…

Here, the core principles I cover in this are:

  1. Every new version or variation of a document has a new version number and a new name.
    It should incorporate reference to the version and a date.
  2. We keep track of the changes made to each version, the dates, and its approval status.
  3. File storage makes it as easy as possible to find the most recent version and as hard as possible to accidentally mistake a previous version for the current one. 
    My preference is to implement a suitable software process to support the team and make errors harder to make. So, see the section below on Artifacts as Documents…
  4. Create a clear version numbering system.
    My preference is for a three-part system. For example, version 2.03.02.

Configuration Management

When we refer to the configuration of a system, we mean the technical description of a system and how its component parts interconnect. Since the system itself can be viewed as a primary project artifact. We also need to understand configuration management.

We define Configuration Management in our free PM Glossary: ‘Be on the Inside. Decode the Jargon of Project Management’, as: 

‘Defining, controlling, releasing, changing, documenting, and reporting the configuration items in a system.’ 

‘Be on the Inside. Decode the Jargon of Project Management’ by Mike Clayton (OnlinePMCourses)

You can learn more about Configuration Management in our short video: What is Configuration Management?

Artifacts as Documents: Document Management, Distribution, and Storage

Project artifacts need to be:

  • created
  • reviewed
  • subject to version control
  • stored
  • accessible to the people who need them
  • secure from the people who don’t
  • protected from unrecorded tampering

A while ago, we invited project document management expert, Malcolm West, to write a thorough article on Project Document Management: How to Organize and Manage Project Information. Please do take a look at Malcolm’s excellent article.

Malcolm’s article also gives you access to his free ‘Project in a Box’ project document management system.

Commercial Document Management Systems

There are a lot of excellent solutions available for document management. Some are specific to the project environment and others are generic. And, of the PM-specific tools, you’ll find some are better suited to predictive processes and others to adaptive, agile processes.

The kind of facilities these tools offer (in addition to those above), include:

  • Notification when a user creates and stores a document, modifies a document, or even reads or downloads a document
  • Recording of document access by users
  • Creation and updating of standard templates for users
  • Definer user access levels
  • Management of version control
  • Facilitation of review and sign-off
  • High levels of security
  • Compliance with data protection regulations
  • Long-term archival storage

Please Share Your Thoughts on Project Artifacts

As always, I’d love to read your thoughts, so please do add them to the comments below.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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