Document Management: 101

Document Management: 101

It could be said that businesses hinge on the documents they create together as teams.

Documents are the collective output of a team’s brainpower. They are essentially a business’s IP and therefore its worth. Despite the significance of documents within a team, this is the one area that most senior leaders pay the least amount of attention to getting right, unless are messy, duplicated and in many cases lost. Document management needs a strategy and it needs to be flexible enough to grow and expand as the business grows and expands.

The Cost of Not Managing Documents

Considering that the time in motion studies prove that the average person wastes 30 minutes every day looking for information they cannot find, when one starts doing the maths behind that, the numbers can become quite scary, quite quickly:

Assume a five day working week, in a team of 20 people:

  • 2.5 hours per week, per person lost
  • 10 hours per month, per person lost
  • 200 hours per month lost across the team
  • At an hourly rate of €20 per person, a team of 20 people is bleeding €48 000 a year from its bottom line.

Below follow a series of effective steps on both a strategic and tactical level to make document management the backbone of the business rather than the left behind child that needs minding:

1. Define the Rules

Dangerous assumptions are made around work. Business leaders assume people know how to manage documents, how to file, how to manage email and how to organise a task list. Sure, most people might have hacked together some form of working method that gets them through the day but has it been challenged? Has it been held up and compared to best practice from experts who know how teams function optimally? In 99% of cases, it hasn’t been. More worrying is that each team member is working to their own method which is most likely not in sync with the rest of the team. The chances of us calling our files the same name because it’s logical to do so, is a fantasy that will never enter the real world. It is a strategic necessity that leaders define the rules by which their teams should play. Be specific about the file structure and naming protocol you want people to follow. Document this process and share it regularly as it gets updated. Ensure that it is part of every new employee’s induction programme.

2. Get Department & Project Specific

Different departments and different projects function differently. Trying to get all of these teams to fit into the same set of rules is creating a rigid structure that cannot be adhered to. Each document structure needs to have a primary overarching structure but it then also needs to cater for specific departments and projects. For example: every company might have a broad structure which consists of admin, finance, HR, marketing, sales, development, design, legal, research and development and product whereas HR might need categories such as internships, arbitration, contracts, performance, incentives and wages which do not apply to any of the other departments.

3. Understand Key Differences

Document management, document storage, document retrieval, document creation and editing and document security are all key issues that surround documents but they are distinct and very different. Sadly most systems out there currently only cater to one of these needs well and neglect the other areas which means that most companies need to hack together a few systems to ensure their document management strategy is a strong one.

4. Make it Central

The glaring downside of email comes into play here. When documents are shared via email they are effectively replicated over and over to each and every device that an email is sent to. This is unnecessary and a waste of electronic space which a business needs to pay for once it reaches a certain limit. When documents are stored centrally, allowing teams to access them remotely, it reduces this wastage and also allows for tighter controls around access, monitoring and version control.

5. PDF It

Most web and mobile viewers do not handle native document file extensions as well as they do PDF documents. PDF documents can generally be viewed online whereas most Excel and Word type documents require downloading before being able to view them. It is therefore recommended that wherever possible documents always are shared in PDF formats to ensure easy sharing and viewability for all who need to access the document.

6. Stop Printing

There is little need in today’s age to really print any longer. Electronic signatures and online version control allow for real-time changes to documents. Get your company up to date with tools like Docusign.

7. Clear the Decks

The downloads folder and the desktop area on people’s computers are very scary rabbit holes that will most likely leave any individual other than the one whose computer it is, in a total maze as to what is happening where. Ensure that individuals are regularly cleaning out downloads folders and their desktops to ensure that files are being maintained in the designated central areas and that clutter is not accumulating where it shouldn’t.

8. Question the use of Microsoft Products

Are Excel and Word documents really the best way to proceed? Chances are they aren’t. Many companies and teams that I work with no longer use these products due to the introduction of better tools into the market place.

9. Use Collaboration Software

Internally teams are better off using smart document management applications such as Huddle, Teamwork, and Smartsheet to name a few. These applications allow for basic and advanced file creation but more importantly, they have powerful access controls, version tracking and online editing features which allow teams to truly collaborate in the cloud.