The gentle art of project documentation control

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Managing project documents can be an underappreciated art in some organizations. It’s an area where a technical writer should take charge. I’ve seen document control of all stripes throughout my career. Document control that works. Document control that didn’t work. Even document control that caused a near staff rebellion. I’ve even seen no formal document control practices.
While compliance programs like COSO and Sarbanes Oxley require document control over project documents, it also makes good business sense.
Here are some tips for implementing document control within your project team or organization:

Look at your available tools

Putting in document control doesn’t always mean spending money up front. A quick inventory of what your development organization has available may turn up some ignored or otherwise underutilized tools that can be put to work for document control.

Gather requirements and gain input

While certain corporate governance and standards organizations may dictate the framework of a process, it is worth taking the time to do some footwork and gain formal or informal input from those users who are tasked to use the document control process.

Introduce new document control tools and processes at the project or team level first

While a document control process should be standard across an entire organization, it is best to pilot the new process on a single project or with a project team to shake out any kinks in the process. Once the pilot is complete, it is time to roll out the process and have a few happy converts from the pilot to back you up in the court of hallway discussions.

Use a standard and non-cryptic document-naming standard

Filing and securing documents in a document control system does no good if the documents all have a cryptic file naming standard that requires a decoder ring to decipher.

Conduct a document audit of local hard drives, network drives, and USB drives

All of us have our own way of managing documents and maybe even a secret stash of project documents. Moving to a document control system means all of that has to go away and the most current versions of the documents need to move to your new document control system.

Document and publish the document control process

A standardized process underlies document control and organizations should document their process and publish it for general consumption. The process also requires an internal owner who can answer questions, resolve issues, and even provide training if required in the control process and tools.

Avoid too many choke points in the document control process

A standardized document control process should be replicable and supportable with a sensible number of gates for documents to pass through in the process.
Document control processes – while necessary – need a reality check because if there are too many gates in the process that aren’t supportable than users will consider them choke points and human nature will drive them to either ignoring the process or not using it at all.
What has been your experience with implementing document control?
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Published by

Will Kelly

Will Kelly is a technical writer living and working in the Washington, DC area. After years of contracting, he returned to full-time corporate job in 2016. He writes thought leadership content around cloud, enterprise mobility, and cybersecurity topics. Will's has written for Samsung Business Insights, Tom's IT Pro, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, and other sites. Earlier in his career, he wrote technical documentation for end users, developers, and operations teams. His current areas of interest include multi-cloud solutions, mobile security, and managed services. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.

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