Early in my career, I was assigned to two large projects. As
you might expect, the project team struggled with scope, risk, communications,
etc. However, the thing that I remember was the most troubling was document
management. Both of these projects generated a lot of documents and, very early
in the project, it became apparent that things were getting out of control. We
had duplicate documents and documents we couldn’t find at all. Some documents
were located on team members’ hard drives, and
everything in a different format. In other words, we had a mess!

That experience taught me that the management of
documentation is a fundamental part of larger projects, and it’s why document
management is one of the core components of our TenStep Project Management Process.

Tips in your inbox

Looking for expert IT project management? Get the help you need from TechRepublic’s free Project Management newsletter, delivered each Wednesday.

Automatically sign up today!

Document management is totally practical. The project
manager should think ahead of time about how documentation will be managed so
that he or she does not end up in a situation where storing and finding
documents is an obstacle to completing a project successfully. Imagine the
embarrassment of missing your end-date and having to tell your sponsor it was
because no one could ever find the documents they were looking for.

The larger the project, the more rigorous structure is
needed to manage documents. The following areas should be considered part of an
overall document management plan.

  1. Determine
    where to store documents. This is a no-brainer. The project team should
    have a common area, or repository, for storing documents.
  2. Define
    a logical and physical document organizational structure. Once you know
    where you will store documents, you should also determine the directory or
    folder structure and define what types of documents go where.
  3. Define
    naming standards. Don’t let everyone call documents anything they want.
    Provide the naming conventions so that you can instantly tell what type of
    information is in each document.
  4. Determine
    if some documents need versioning. The project manager should determine
    whether multiple versions of documents will be saved or if just the latest
    version will be saved. If multiple versions are saved, you’ll need some
    type of versioning technique to make sure people know what version they’re
  5. Determine
    if (and how) you will track document approval status. This lets you know
    if a document has “final,” “draft” or “awaiting
    approval” status. Again, if you don’t manage the documents, people
    will read drafts and think they have the final version.
  6. Define
    standard document formats. It’s easier to read and create documents if
    they all have a standard format, fonts, headers, footers, etc.

This type of work may sound tedious, and some of it is.
However, all large projects need to work through these areas, and more. If you
are a proactive project manager, you will set up these standards ahead of time.
If you are reactive, you’ll still set up these standards, only you’ll have to
do it after you and your team become overwhelmed by
documentation during the project.