The Worst Advice We’ve Ever Heard About Quality Documents
“Rethinking just these five will ensure a new paradigm and a very different outcome for any organisation that takes them on. ”
Josh Haebets, our Director of Product Innovation, shares his insight on the most popular misconceptions in document management and control. With over a decade in the industry, he’s seen it all: these observations are drawn from ongoing implementations at a broad range of organizations, and illustrate a more effective approach to managing our most critical assets.
Someone once said opinions are like …… well, the punchline is “everybody’s got one”, but we shouldn’t go there should we? The point of the story is that if you ask 5 people for their advice you will get 5 or more different pieces of advice. So when raising the topic of Quality Document Management, Control and Life Cycle we have heard and even seen some pretty amazing things.
Let’s take a minute first to take stock; systems, procedures, and knowledge sharing have all come a long way. While you may think some of these things are archaic or you don’t believe any organisation could possibly work like this, some still do. In fact, you might even be in one. Sometimes this just appears to be the easiest way to do things, at least in the short term: many manual steps that allow an organisation to have confidence in the system by having confidence in the person running it.
Whatever the reason, these misconceptions and the practices that follow them are common enough for me to see them come up again and again. Let’s take a quick look at the top 5 and see what they look like when we apply a bit of perspective.
- Quality documents are the responsibility of a single team or department
This one is VERY common. “All our quality documents are created, published and reviewed by a person or single team in the business.” We see super heroes in everyday life, ensuring quality across documentation that isn’t their normal hangout. Sometimes it isn’t even in their formal job description.
Quality is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation, so why wouldn’t you then want the people who follow the policy or procedure to have input into it? Shouldn’t these people be able to provide feedback on these documents, given they are the experts in their use? The same goes for authoring the content. We have found documents are more accurate and valuable when they are authored by the people in the business who use them. This doesn’t remove the need for approval by management, though. In fact, that part is easy once you have a great document.
- You can manage everything in a spreadsheet–you don’t need a 3rd party system
This one is everywhere. Except no one can ever FIND the spreadsheet when the Exec team or Board Members ask for it and want to know when a policy was last reviewed. We typically see the spreadsheet in the front of the ring binder with the copies of all the documents, or the copies of copies. As people change documents they end up being re-typed, as the original is lost or too many copies are found and no one knows which is the most recent. This approach goes hand in hand with the idea that document control systems are only for the big end of town due to their cost, but we will look at that later.
- You can’t open up your system to the entire organisation
There are two questions that need to be asked here: why cant everyone access the documents when they need them, and why shouldn’t people on the front line be able to give feedback or contribute to changes to a quality document? Let’s tackle the access first. Ring binders and storage cabinets don’t cut it anymore. Employees need access to quality documents in a way that gives them confidence that they have the most recent approved version. Complete confidence. Your team needs anywhere-access, in the office or in the field.
Any then we get to authoring. I called this out earlier. If you have the right processes in place then anyone should be able to contribute to a document, as attached feedback or even in line. This doesn’t mean they get to publish out to everyone–there still needs to be control around it. But if you let people be part of the creation process they are more likely to follow the controls put in front of them.
- If you are to go online with Quality Documents you need a highly customised system
This was once the case, when everyone thought they had cracked the code on managing quality documents, but it isn’t anymore. As we have seen from working with over a hundred organisations doing exactly this, one size can almost fit all. The review and approval processes are unique but the need to get content out in a controlled way remains the same.
- You’ll never control quality documents using Office files like Word or Excel.
Keeping documents in their original format makes revisions a lot easier, so why change it? Editing files like PDF’s is too easy nowadays. So why not tackle the real problem and make it easier for people to find and access the content they need, so they don’t keep saving their own personal versions or printing out copies? Move away from unstructured file shares, put your documentation online, and make it available via mobile devices and everyone will thank you for it.
Of course the list goes on, but rethinking just these five will ensure a new paradigm and a very different outcome for any organisation that takes them on. We’ve made the journey with enough organisations to tell you: there really is a happy ending to the story.