The gentle art of project documentation control

Will Kelly
3 min readAug 30, 2017

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Originally published at willkelly.blog on August 30, 2017.

Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and analyst based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and Neustar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by TechBeacon, Projects@Work, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly.

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