A typical document management plan should, but is not limited to, defining the following topics:
- Defining the document structure;
- Determining the types of documents to include;
- Defining standard document formats;
- Defining the naming and numbering standards;
- Determining where and how to store documents;
- Determining how to track documents and defining their status;
- Defining the team, roles and responsibilities for document management.
Getting down to brass tacks, the real success factor that makes all the above-mentioned documentation work would be the people and the team assigned to deal with the documents. Of course, having a good database that manages the documents certainly does help.
Let’s take, for example, a small project with a few documents: 500 documents needs only a simple excel list to get the job done. However, if we are talking about a multilayer programme with sub-sub contractors, sub-contractors and the main contractor linked in a consortium, the document handling and correspondence can become a challenge if not managed rightly.
To overcome large amounts of documents within a complex organization, a well-defined process flow is required and an online database to store and manage correspondence, documents and drawings to deal with documents currently and for future use.
Naturally this sort of documentation set-up comes with a price. But in my experience I believe that it costs more to sort out missing documents or to clean up a documentation mess. Might as well get it right from the start! In other words, fire prevention is always worth the time and initial investment as it saves you time, money and head ache in the future.
If you need a complete documentation for a partial occupation certification and to substantiate progress claims, and the documents are not available, this is when the team feels the heat and the management pays a fortune to sort out the documentation. Typically, this sort of challenge causes time delays on submissions and certifications.
Let’s assume that we have the perfect online database available and the processes are programmed into the database as workflows to define approvals etc. Such a database is only as good as the team and people working with it. You can have the best set-up, but if the people aren’t trained or don’t use the systems, it simply won’t work.
The team has to ensure that the documentation in the database is seamless and complete. In other words, the project team is not allowed to store project-relevant documents on their local drives. Too often I have seen people who left during a long-term project and while there may have been a handover, there were still documents that were missing or incomplete.
A key feature of an online database is the data backup, which can be configured and automated. While it sounds practical, to make it work, the team must be competent in IT and data security and be able to configure proper access permissions and data backup. Once the system is setup and operational, I always recommend doing an unexpected and unplanned test for the backup. You can do this by making a copy of a relevant document on your computer and deleting it from the server in the database. Then check if your IT team can restore the missing document. I know it may sound a bit harsh, but what is harsher is having to sort out a huge mess!
Another good question or protocol to have in place is for everyone to know what happens with your database and with all the documents if there is a fire or water flooding in your server room. Keep in mind that all these documents are the asset of your PMO and your projects.
Document creation and availability to execute works is usually missing in project timelines. Everybody knows documents are required, but many times the work cannot proceed because of a missing document or drawing in the process from design, to construction, testing and commissioning. Detailed document tracking and conducting regular readiness meetings is essential to ensure documents are available when required. From my experience, document submissions always take longer than planned. And usually only properly signed or stamped documents and drawings can be used and submitted. Therefore, the progress tracking should take into account these facts to avoid misleading metrics.
Make project documentation easy with great systems AND an awesome team that can do the job right!