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's long-term well being.

Individually, documents are representations of an organization's intellectual capital.
They each contain information that presents a small part of what the organization
knows. Taken together, over time, documents become a significant part of the
business assets of the organization. These assets can even provide the intellectual
property basis for new or expanded business opportunities.

The importance of documents to an organization's health 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 to do their work.

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
  • 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

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

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.

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
© 2014 David A. Baldwin. All rights reserved. All content is subject to copyright and may not be reproduced in any form without express written consent of the author.
The Principles of Document Control
by David A. Baldwin  August 17, 2014 (Updated)
Content Design, Development and Management
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