Reader Question: We're already drowning in documents, and the thought of "document control" is not really a welcome thought by most IT staff.... isn't opening this can of worms re-inventing the wheel? Why can't we just use what we're already using?
Third Sky Expert Answer:
John Worthington, Director of Consulting, Third Sky
It's no accident that TIPA's Generic Practices focus on things like management of process work products. It's also no accident that you cannot reach levels 3-5 without fully meeting TIPA's level 2.2 requirement, which focuses on:
The difficult task of establishing control over what is a mountain of documentation in IT organizations is as much a challenge today as it ever was, even with all the advances in technology. We’re collaborating and networking more than ever (but still not communicating very effectively) and more documentation is not always better!
Documentation --- policies, process, procedures, work instructions, forms and records --- plays a critical role in improving process capability, but perhaps it's worth differentiating between document control and document management.
Document management tends to focus on how to deal with the volume of documents in terms of access, searching, archiving, etc.; document control has more of a focus on those documents that have longer-term significance to the organization. These documents usually require formal approvals and have a very specific purpose.
Procedures are frequently used synonymously with process but there are some important differences, and the time pressures to produce results quickly sometimes lead to too much procedural detail before basic policy and process elements are defined and agreed. In fact, the activities associated with defining and agreeing on high-level policies and process boundaries with key stakeholders can be the difference between a process that lasts and one that doesn’t.
When a flock of ducks takes to the skies behind a leader in a familiar V-formation, it allows each duck to take advantage of reduced wind resistance. They can fly further and longer with less effort. This may be where we got the term, ‘get your ducks in a row’, which essentially means, to organize things well.
There is one other significant reason to document processes. The act of documenting and gaining agreement serves as an invaluable change agent. That's why using other organizations' documents is far less effective than creating your own.
These documents and others play an important role as you move along the capability/maturity curve. Controlling these documents is essential to the improvement journey and effective IT governance. Perhaps more importantly, the activities associated with getting buy-in from key stakeholders lays the foundation for long term success.
While you may not have to re-define your document management system, taking the time to agree on how the organization will define and manage key process documents is worth the effort.