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Within duration of project I often have to communicate various things to the clients. The projects I'm working on are very flexible, so often I receive from the client set of changes to implement and I estimate, provide and report on them. The forms of the documents sent back and forth are similar, but are not the same. Currently, I create those manually which I find very tedious, time-consuming and error prone.

I tried iReport but think it's overkill for the task and requires more effort for learning and using than it is worth.

I want to eliminate risk of inconsistency in the documents that I send out to clients. Also, if I keep all the data within spreadsheets and generate documents on the fly using a document-generator, will that be a good solution to this problem?

What is a good desktop-based solution to this problem?

  • Hi XLII, welcome to PMSE! Your question defines a problem you're facing, which is great. But I edited your question to modify it a bit as asking for suggestions or recommendations can turn a question into a polling question, which we try to avoid. I tried to keep the main ideas of your question in place. If I missed anything, please feel free to edit it further to improve it. Thank you, and welcome to PMSE! :) – jmort253 Jun 2 '12 at 21:57
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If you allow me to ignore your desktop-based requirement, I would like to throw a hat in the ring for Wikis.

This might sound strange, but Wikis are actually quite useful for project documentation. You get a lot of features out of the box. Especially the historization and user management make it very easy to track changes. Many wiki engines also provide templates and the cross-linking possibilities are endless.

Allowing customers to access the wiki makes it easy to communicate without wondering about things like "Is this the most current version of this document" or having to deal with concurrent changes.

  • I've certainly never thought about Wiki this way, and I think it might be a great way to ensure consistency. I am going to research this solution a bit and check how it goes. – XLII Jun 7 '12 at 6:59
  • Just wanted to second this - I've used wikis with teams at two companies and it worked extremely well. Flexible and searchable, they were much more effective than any desktop solution I've seen in use. – gef05 Jun 7 '12 at 22:04
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What is a good desktop-based solution to this problem?

I've never seen any. As far as I remember, we had a general template using MS Word. It had a basic structure following our V-Model. I don't quite remember the whole document, but its TOC was something like this:

  • Document revision and template revision
  • Document history: who changed what and when. It was a simple table
  • Template history: who changed what and when in the template. It was a simple table
  • Requirement description: one chapter per requirement. One paragraph for the description, a table for common issues, market share, risk assessment, solution proposals etc.
  • Development description: one chapter per requirement. The document had to be started with a class diagram, and followed by several paragraphs as an explanation
  • Test description: how to test manually. A single table with three columns: pre-requisites, steps and expected result

Every chapter had a description on how to fill it out. There weren't too many rules concerning this document, but there was one really important: one could delete any chapter, but never add a new element to the template. For example, I had to write a test report, I took the template, deleted the rest of the chapters and filled out the test report.

If I were you I would create a general Word document, make it available for everybody and set some basic rules.

  • Thanks for your suggestion. I think it might be a great use for creating global template (and providing consistency between all documents) however it wouldn't link between similar documents (such as: Request Document vs Report Document with the same items). – XLII Jun 7 '12 at 6:51

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