An Appreciation for Documentation

Six benefits of documentation that round out a quality process

by Dan Domalik

Isn't completing the task more important than completing the paperwork? Why do organizations spend valuable time and resources generating and maintaining paperwork systems?

Quality professionals are accustomed to hearing—and sometimes asking—these questions. Asking for quality process documentation often results in responses about bureaucratic or time-consuming paperwork.

In many cases, the distinction between unnecessary paperwork and important documentation is nothing more than the attitude taken toward the subject. The distinction becomes clear when trying to find documentation critical to resolving a dispute or legal claim.

At HDR Engineering Inc., an engineering and architectural consulting firm, professionals recognize the value of documenting their technical activities. The following are six key benefits HDR has identified to help professionals understand the importance of documentation in a complete quality process:

  1. Accountability: If a process requires documentation, it is much more likely to occur. Many quality processes require documentation in some form to trigger the next phase. The completed documentation becomes the key to opening the door to the next step.

    For example, a contract might not be signed until a documented review of the contract terms has been completed.

  2. Completeness: If standard forms or checklists are incorporated into a quality process, those tools become roadmaps to ensure the entire process is followed. Good documentation should tie directly to the process being completed.

    An example: A reviewer might feel tempted to bypass the defined quality control review process to speed submission of a deliverable. But if documentation of the completed review is required, the reviewer will have to perform all duties needed to generate that documentation.

  3. Consistency: Individuals might attempt to complete a given task in many ways. This might be acceptable in some situations, but in many cases a consistent approach creates organizational efficiency. If the form of documentation generated is standardized, the processes used to create the documentation also are standardized.

    This ensures reviews are conducted in a more consistent manner companywide. The corporate headquarters is then able to combine and analyze the data more easily.

  4. Timeliness: The knowledge that a form or document must be signed and dated according to a specified schedule encourages compliance with that schedule. When deadlines are important, documentation is important.

    For example, if offices are required to submit financial results to corporate headquarters by the end of each month, they will take the steps necessary at the local level to collect and document that information in a timely manner.

  5. Communication: Documentation improves communication flow among team members. E-mail and the internet have increased the speed and flexibility of project activities, thus increasing the need for documentation.

    An example: Individuals who did not participate in a team meeting because of business travel can quickly review meeting results if thorough minutes were documented and made available in electronic form.

  6. Record: A documented record of decisions made or actions taken can span gaps, provide the necessary information years later and protect a team and its leaders.

    For example, a contractor’s claim of design error might spark an investigation into the design process. If good records were kept of the meetings and decisions, those records would be invaluable in responding to any subsequent inquiries.

The documentation benefits listed can be cited as the value of paperwork. Completing the task itself is important, but if documentation is required and not yet completed, the task is not done. The doing and the documenting are complementary and necessary parts of most useful quality processes.

Dan Domalik is a lead internal auditor at HDR Engineering Inc., Pittsburgh. He earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from Pennsylvania State University and an MBA from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. Domalik is a senior member of ASQ and a certified quality auditor and quality manager.

Helpful - from someone who is trying to 'sell' the benefit of document control to a company
--Jeff, 03-15-2008

Nice, concise summary of why we create and keep records. I am constantly asked the "why" question with regards to records during improvement projects and training. I shared this with my associates so we can be prepared next time we get the "why" questions from operators and sueprvisors.
--Scott Bayha, 03-13-2008

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