Enter the Project Log

The hero we need, not the hero we deserve.

Apollo astronaut writing in a log book.

Friday, 10:32am: Client Call Debrief

PM: Hey gang, we’ve got a problem. I just got off the phone with the client and they’re pushing back hard on revision request #3. I reminded them that we all agreed to cut #3’s functionality in the quoting stage, but that was nine months ago, and apparently Frank, when he was still on the team, got confused and promised we’d do it. All of the client’s feedback for the past several months has been based on the assumption that #3 is in scope.

Google Doc: Looking through past meeting notes... Frank hasn’t been on the team since... March, so the miscommunication probably happened before then. Kristi took over for him.

Calendar: Frank just left on vacation for two weeks and isn’t answering email.


PM: I don’t remember Frank making that promise either. Drive—can you pull up the quote and requirements doc?

Google Drive: Sure thing. There’s no clear-cut answer here, though. The language is a little too vague.

PM: Gmail—can you pull up messages sent to the client from between January and March where Frank was included?

Gmail: No problem! Here are 16 threads each containing an undetermined number of messages that may or may not be relevant. Some of them are from the time period you specified.

PM: (exhales slowly) Alright. We need to know what happened and when to make sure nothing else has been miscommunicated to the client, and we need a plan for minimizing the impact on the project. But: there’s no one around who I can ask for more info, and there’s no documentation other than this pile of email that I’ll need to sift through and organize. This isn’t how I wanted to spend my Friday.

Friday, 3:12pm: Team Check-in

PM: How are we doing?

Google Doc: We’re on page eight of the report. It’s clear the client’s assumptions had shifted by the week of February 27th. We’re getting closer!

PM: Jira—can you tell me if there was a requirements change on issue 273 or 274 around that time?

Jira: Probably?

PM: ...


PM: What is it Slack?


PM: (sighs) while I’m here... Slack—any messages from Frank from around Feb 27th?


PM: ...

Project log: Hey there.

Gmail: Who are you?

Project Log: I’m a Project Log. I aggregate all of the important updates and decisions that happen over the course of a project. The result is a timeline of who did what and when that you can refer to in times like these to pinpoint past problems more easily. I can also remind you about the general state of your projects when things get especially busy. I’m helpful in project reviews, too.

Jira: Pffff.

Gmail: So you can summarize emails and issue ticket updates automatically? Doubtful.

Project Log: Of course not. I’m a simple list the PM keeps of tweet-sized updates. When a decision gets made or there’s a status change, the PM jots down a short update summary, the date and time, and anything else that’s relevant. Links to documentation about more substantive updates can be added, too.

Jira: That sounds incredibly time consuming. The last thing the PM needs is to maintain yet another system. Things move fast. You can’t expect the PM to stop everything and maintain a list, or remember to make an update with enough detail after the fact. This is busywork for someone who’s already got way too much to do.

Project Log: Maybe. I’m definitely more art than science. It’s like maintaining a to-do list—the process is as light or as heavy as you want to make it.


PM: (enables Slack’s Do Not Disturb mode) Let’s park this for now. Gmail—keep feeding me emails so we can finish putting this report together.

Friday, 6:43pm

Gmail: Ok I think that’s it. The report was just shared with Kristi and we’ll discuss the plan with leadership on Monday. High fives!

PM: Hold on—I’m glad we have a plan, but I can think of at least three significant problems that landed us in this situation that we need to sort out:

  1. Why did Frank think #3 was in scope?
  2. Why didn’t I flag this as soon as I saw Frank’s email to the client?
  3. What improvements can we make to our contracts and kickoffs to help avoid situations like this?

Gmail: Use... Basecamp?

Jira: (rolls eyes)

PM: Maybe, but these are process problems, not technology problems.

Project Log: Hey there.

Jira: Ugh.

Project Log: Let’s be honest—you didn’t flag Frank’s email when you saw it because you weren’t paying attention. No one was. You’re getting a hundred emails and other notifications every day...


Project Log: ...so it’s no wonder a few things fell through the cracks here. I’m not saying I can solve all your problems, but if you make me a part of your team, I’ll force you to pay attention because you’ll need to write down the important stuff every day.

PM: How would we start?

Project Log: Make a new spreadsheet with three columns...

Google Sheet: ’Sup.

Project Log:

  • Project name
  • Log entry date/time
  • Log entry text

That’s pretty much it. If you want to get fancy, you can create extra columns for tracking whether a log entry describes a status update or a decision, to link to relevant documents, or to track anything else that’s important to your process. Just remember to keep your entry text bite-sized—say, 250 characters or less.

Jira: (slowly mouths “what ever”)

PM: You’re right that I wasn’t paying attention. There’s too much going on to think I can keep every important detail in my head. How often would I have to make updates?

Project log: Think of your project like a story—make an entry whenever something happens to move the plot forward. Deployment problems on the QA server? There are potential ramifications here—make an entry. Organizing a call time with the client? You probably don’t need to document the detailed back-and-forth in the log.

PM: Ok, I’d like to try this as an experiment for a couple of months. I’m not sure how this is going to work out, or if it’ll be too much overhead, but it’s worth a shot. Welcome aboard, Project Log.