Effective Document Control

Effective Document Control

Or: Don’t leave your checklist out in the rain!

As recent items in the news have illustrated, control of documentation, especially records, can be a challenge for any organization. What follows are examples and suggestions for improvement. As with breaking any bad habit, the trick is not to just stop doing the ineffective activity, but to replace it with one that is effective.

Part One: Documented Information

When the ISO standards were revised, there was a recognition that we no longer live in a world where everything is documented on paper and then filed in binders, filing cabinets, and storage boxes.  Organizations must define what information they need to control and maintain, as well as the medium on which that information is contained.

The definition includes Note 1 that states: “Documented information can be in any format and media, and from any source.”

Some examples of media: paper copies, photographs, recordings (video or audio), digital copies, physical samples of products, signs, labels. This gives some flexibility in terms of selecting the type of media that you use for a given purpose and you need to consider how to:

  • Make it available where needed – instead of distributing paper copies perhaps provide direction electronically on a computer or smartphone. Labels, signs, and other posted information can be effective methods for point of use. Product samples, especially when there is colour and texture involved, may be the best way to communicate requirements.
  • Protect it – some media are affected by the environment more than others. There are dust-proof, water resistant, and hardened electronic devices.
  • Distribute – electronic files can easily be sent around by e-mail or posted to a shared drive.
  • Manage changes – electronic signboards can be effective for communicating up to the minute information. Posted copies of something like an evacuation map need to be collected and replaced when there is a change.
  • Retain for historical purposes – electronic archives are more easily searched than stacks of boxes. Product samples may be kept over a period of time in order to evaluate wear and tear on tooling.
  • Dispose of – paper can be shredded, but information posted on the internet may be out there forever.

Note 2 lists three categories of documented information:

  1. The management system including related processes;
  2. Information created for the organization to operate (documentation);
  3. Evidence of results achieved (records).

Parts Two and Three will look at Document and Records in more detail.