What is Sunset Documentation and Where Does It Belong In Your Project Plan?

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If you are like most software project managers, the topic of project sunset documentation is probably not something that is on the top of your to-do, to-plan-for, or to-worry-about list. However, the time will come when it will be right up there, on top, and requiring your full attention.

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What is Sunset Documentation?

As in the movie The Lion King, a software project will follow its own circle of life, from project initiation, through project execution, and finally to project termination and closeout. Along its circle of life, a project requires documentation. Sunset documentation supports the requirements and activities associated with a project’s eventual termination and closeout. It also supports the requirements and activities associated with any subsequent reconstitution of the project. After a project ends and its support staff disperses, sunset documentation may represent the only public record for the project and provide the only keys to reactivate it.

Plan for Sunset Documentation

During project initiation, when you are setting up your project plan, be sure to address sunset documentation collection and creation as part of project termination and closeout activity. Clearly specify what are any expected deliverables to the customer and in what media forms they may be provided. Clarify if a demonstrated successful project reconstitution is part of any deliverable package.

Sunset Documentation Archive Template

Build a sunset documentation archive template that will be applicable for your project and use it as a road map throughout the project to collect, organize and store documentation artifacts throughout the project’s tenure and at its closeout. At Segue Technologies, I have used archive templates like the example below to identify, collect, and store sunset documentation artifacts across several projects with different technologies, components, and life histories. Project archive templates are stored in a SharePoint project repository as a nested series of folder and document files and may be populated with applicable sunset artifact candidates throughout the project’s life. Sunset documentation artifacts that may be included in a printed project closeout document are assigned a tab or sub-tab number for archive Table of Contents reference.

project closeout document

Sunset Documentation Categories

Sunset documentation for a project may be organized into the following five general categories. Let’s look at what may go into each one:

  • Archive Guide
  • Production
  • Documentation
  • Development
  • Archive Media

Archive Guide

Archive Guide documents are the entry point into the sunset documentation archive. They serve as a road map for the archive and provide the basic reconstitution instructions for the project. Typical documents in this section of the archive include:

  • Table of Contents – This document provides a map of what to be found in the sunset documentation archive and is included in any printed deliverable document.
  • Summary of Application – This document provides a brief background of the project, a functional description of the components of the system, and application retirement/archive disposition information.
  • Reconstitution Directions – These documents are perhaps the most important of the entire archive because they provide the keys for how to bring the terminated, uninstalled, archived system back to life. They provide detailed instructions for how to restore/reconstitute/reinstall the application software, database, third-party library, help, and website components for the project from the archive media. Directions for restarting and testing the functionality, and performing startup user account management should be included.

Production

Production documents are the application, database, help and website component files which must be reinstalled to provide the desired project functionality. They usually consist of “build” files, application executable files, database restore files, help and CBT files, and website components. The reconstitution instructions should explain how to restore these files to the system and re-establish desired functionality.

Documentation

Documentation documents are downloadable versions of user, administrator, help, or training documents; illustrative samples of key project reports; and applicable requirements or compliance/regulatory documents. Some of this documentation may be identical with online project documentation, while other documents may be only available external to the application.

Development

Development documents are the current source code and help files, installation “build” scripts, Third-Party software component libraries, database design/model/scripts/stored procedures/tables. These sunset documentation components are what a future developer must access to make future changes to a restored system component.

Archive Media

Archive Media are the CDs or DVDs which contain all of the sunset documentation components and artifacts described above and which are used to perform a system reconstitution and documentation.

In this brief overview, we have seen how sunset documentation is a natural extension of your project’s planning, management, and documentation process. It not only provides the requisite closure at project termination, but also provides the seed for any subsequent project renewal.

If you have projects that are candidates for retirement but you don’t relish the thought of attempting to archive them by yourself, contact us and our staff can work with you to make your sunset as smooth as possible.

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