The Out of Control Syndrome
Organizations create documents daily. They are used to convey new
ideas, provide direction, give instructions, describe processes, define
specifications, and serve a host of other purposes. Often documents are
generated in an ad hoc environment without much thought to how they
will eventually be used or by whom.

Documents are often created in a casual manner and then stored on
someone's hard drive. They are passed around in printed form, or
attached to e-mails, and end up being thrown away or deleted when they
no longer seem relevant to the issues of the day.

Realizing the Importance of Documents
This undisciplined approach to document creation and distribution
overlooks the importance documents may likely have to the organization
in the long term. Individually, documents are pieces of the organization's
intellectual capital. They each contain information that represents a small
part of what the organization knows. Taken together, over time,
documents become a significant part of the intelligence of the
organization.

The importance of documents to the organization and, perhaps, its very
survival, calls for a thoughtful approach to understanding the role
documents play in the day-to-day functioning of the organization. Once
this is understood, the need for a rational and consistent means of
creating and managing documents becomes clear.

A Practical Approach to Document Management
Effective document control requires an underlying philosophy and
strategy. It should be tailored to the needs of the organization that uses
it. It should be practical and it should be written. No document
management strategy can be useful if it is not explicitly documented and
made part of the daily routine.

In organizations with the proper understanding of the significance of
document management, this documented philosophy and strategy
becomes a document management policy. Once this policy is defined, it
should be followed with a document management process that explains
how to put the policy into use.

The document management policy and process become the
organization's method of document control. In broad terms, document
control provides a means of managing the development, approval, issue,
change, distribution, maintenance, use, storage, security, and disposal of
documents.

The Purpose of Document Control
The goal of document control is not to create extra work or build a
bureaucracy. Instead, it is put in place to protect the value of the content
of documents and to enhance the usefulness of that content to the
people in the organization who need to use it.

Document control provides a framework for deciding how information is
created in the organization and how it is managed once created. The
purpose of a document control method is to ensure:

  • Documents fulfill a useful purpose
  • Resources are not wasted on the distribution of unimportant or
    useless information
  • Only valid information is published
  • Information is kept up to date
  • Information is provided in a form that can be used by the audience
  • Classified, confidential, or proprietary information is restricted to
    the people who have a real need to access it
  • Information is retained that could help solve a problem, improve
    opportunities, avoid costly errors, or deflect potential litigation

Document Control Procedures
The document control process put in place to support the policy should
include procedures that define the development of documents. While
these procedures should not be cumbersome, they should be explicit and
detailed enough to provide clear direction as to how documents should
be prepared. The procedures may include essential topics such as:

  • How to plan new documents; authorization, funding, establishing
    need
  • How to prepare new documents; who prepares them, how they
    are drafted, how drafts are maintained
  • Standards for the format and content of documents, forms,
    diagrams
  • Document identification conventions
  • Version control conventions
  • Dating conventions; date of review, date of approval, date of
    issue, date of distribution, date of revision
  • Document review procedures; who reviews, evidence of review
  • Document approval; who approves, evidence of approval
  • Publication; what constitutes “publishing” a document
  • Printing; who prints a document, restrictions to printing
  • Distribution; how is a document distributed, who does it,who
    checks it
  • Use of documents; limitations, unauthorized copying, access to
    files, marking printed copy
  • Revisions; identifying a need; who makes revisions, review and
    approval process, how are changes marked
  • Amending issued documents; who creates amendments,review
    and approval process, identification of amendments
  • Storing documents; determining location, security, access and
    prevention of unauthorized changes, indexing, retrieval by users,
    restrictions concerning paper documents vs. electronic document
    files, authorized and unauthorized external distribution and
    republishing

A Process Tailored to the Environment
While a document control process can be automated with a document
management tool, the organization must not allow a purchased software
application to dictate its document management policy and process. To
work effectively, a document control method must be adopted that
makes sense for the organization's environment and culture.

Implementing a Document Control Process
Prior to implementing a document control process, an organization
should prepare a document control policy that explicitly explains how the
system is to work. This document should describe with precision the
rules for how documents are to be created, reviewed, published, stored,
and used, as well as any other details as suggested in
Document Control
Procedures
above.

A relatively simple way to implement document control is to use a master
list as the control mechanism. This is the approach taken by the ISO
9000 series of quality standards. The master list contains the same
document control elements as does each document. The master list,
however, is the governing instrument for the process. If the master list
is changed, affected documents must be changed to correspond to the
master list.

In such a system, the master list is a particularly sensitive document
once document control information is recorded and must be protected
accordingly. The document control policy may include instructions for
how the master list is to be managed.

In actual practice, a document is created, its document control elements
populated, and the master list is used to record the document coming
under the control process. If the system is audited, the master list is the
source used to check the control of individual documents. Document
revisions are done in a similar fashion. Document content is changed as
required, the document control elements are updated, along with the
revision history page of the document, and the master list is updated to
correspond to the document information.

At a minimum, the recurring control elements of a document include the
document name, revision number, issue/revision date, the current page
number and the document’s total number of pages. This is the same
basic set of information that is included on the master list. Other
information, such as the name of the author or editor, the name of the
person authorizing the document, and document reviewer identification
could also be included. It is a good idea to include all such information
you choose to record and track on the revision history page of the
document as well. Again, the document control policy should spell out
what information about each document will be maintained.

The minimum document control elements should be consistently placed
on each page of the document, normally in the header and footer. Other
information, such as classification of information (confidential,
proprietary, etc.) or copyright notices may be required by your
organization as well. Organizations usually publish these requirements for
employee use.

Once the required control elements are placed within the document, an
entry in the document control master list should be made. Going
forward, for the document to be considered controlled, its document
control elements must always match those on the master list. Between
the document and the master list, should control information get out of
sync, the document is no longer considered controlled.

References
Robitaille, Denise. Document Control: A Simple Guide to Managing Documentation. Chico,
California: Paton Press LLC, 2005.

Dick, David  and Kathy Bine. “Documentation Management for Dummies.” The Nor’easter
(July/August 2003).
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The Principles of Document Control
by David A. Baldwin  June 1, 2014 (Revised)
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