You've been working late into the night finishing the last edits on a 20-page proposal when you discover that the specifications are all wrong. Someone updated the specs on an earlier draft but not the current one. This is a frustrating way to learn the value of a document control system.
Whenever you are sharing documents, you're probably already engaging in some version of document control whether you realize it or not. This can range from the latest engineering specs on a prototype to your grandmother's recipe for banana nut bread. The question is whether or not you have the right procedures in place to ensure that information is accurate and in safe hands.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The document control definition encompasses the procedures for distributing, changing and approving documentation as well as designating those who will be responsible for implementing these procedures.
Document Control Meaning
Document control becomes relevant whenever you are sharing information among two or more people. This can include sending tax files to an accountant, collaborating on a business plan or sharing a recipe. In any of these situations, you want to ensure that the information is correct, that it's in the right hands and that any changes to the information can be tracked and traced.
In a small business, this can often be achieved by using any collaboration software, like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, which allows you to set permissions on who can view a document and who can make changes to it. However, the software itself won't be enough. You'll need policies in place to determine how the software is used.
To begin, you should assign someone to act as the document controller, either for all of your documents or for specific projects. It's also a good idea to provide this person with some document control training. Next, you will need to set a process in place that the document controller can use to track, review and approve changes to the documents.
Document Control Process
To adequately track documents and the information they contain, most document control systems use a seven-point process based on specifications set by ISO 9001:
- Approval: To ensure that someone is responsible for approving documents before they are released and that this approval is tagged to the document when it is released
- Review: To ensure that documents are updated as needed only by authorized people and re-approved
- Change tracking: To ensure that documents are identified with a revision number and that revisions are identified in the document
- Document tracking: To ensure that master documents are safely stored, are backed up and are accessible while monitoring the distribution of copies of the document
- Document identification: To ensure that documents are legible, in the correct format (PDF, Word, etc.) and are easily identifiable
- Document origin: To ensure that the origin of documents from outside your business can be identified
- Document retirement: A process to destroy or archive obsolete documents to ensure that they are not accidentally used
Document Control Audit Checklist
To ensure that your document control system is working correctly, you should audit documents on a regular basis. Each controlled document should include information on:
- Who created the document
- Who checked the document
- Who approved the document
- When the document was approved
- The document’s current status (i.e., draft, valid, being revised, awaiting approval, etc.)
- The document’s revision number
- Authorization of the current version of the document
In many cases, the information can be added to the front or back page of the document. If this isn't possible, you should consider using a document management software, such as Microsoft SharePoint, Ascensio System OnlyOffice, Rubex by eFileCabinet or DocuWare.
A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.