Protect the integrity of your document repository

Large projects generate lots of document. Set rules for what to keep and how to manage them.

Large projects can generate a lot of documents. I have been on a couple of projects that generated hundreds of documents over a two-year period. In each case, I needed to share much of this documentation with many other stakeholders in the organization. For these kinds of projects, you need to create a document repository. This repository can be managed with software tools, or you can have a simple folder/file structure on a shared directory.

If you're going to create a repository, you need to establish some rules and processes to protect the integrity of the stored documents. For example, all of your team members usually need full access to any of the documents that they create. However, you need to decide whether any team member can update documents created by other team members. In some projects this would be perfectly acceptable, while on other projects this would be considered a security breach.

You also should decide whether anyone on the team can add documents into your repository, or whether the update process will be handled by a person filling the role of a Librarian. Your first thought might be that having a central Librarian role to control updates to the document repository is an exercise in bureaucracy and overhead. However, the role might make sense.

In the large projects I mentioned earlier, it was important that the documents added to the repository reflected a consistent and high quality. We felt there would be a tendency for the overall quality of the repository to degrade if everyone had the ability to add, delete, and modify documents anywhere. Instead, a Librarian was established to control the process of adding documents. We used the following simple process.

  1. Team members submitted documents to the Librarian at the end of every phase and the end of each individual project. (Remember that we had a large program made up of many individual projects.) The team member completed a form that described the deliverable, the keywords, approval date, recommended storage location, etc.
  2. The Librarian ensured that the document was appropriate for the repository and that the document followed project standards. If the document was not appropriate, the librarian could decline to add the document to the repository.
  3. If the document was relevant and followed document standards, the Librarian placed it into the proper folder of the repository and updated any other required keyword information.

The Librarian was also responsible for the purging process. Purging old documents ensures that the information in the repository is relevant. For instance, weekly individual Status Reports may not be needed after three months. On the other hand, the Project Charter document is needed for the life of the project, even if it's 12 months old. During the project, the Librarian can periodically archive documents that are no longer relevant and purge the documents from the repository.

Don't be afraid to designate a Document Librarian for large projects. It's doesn't have to be a full-time position. It could be a role that only requires 10% of one person's time. However, if your project generates a lot of documents you certainly need some type of role and processes to ensure that the integrity of your documentation is protected. 

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