Avoiding an Avalanche

Abstract:Without a centralized and organization-side approach to managing information, organizations leave themselves vulnerable because of the difficulty and complexity of managing critical and sensitive content and processes that affect quality and compliance. Establishing document and data control processes within a quality management framework improves manufacturing and production processes, enhances collaboration, optimizes the use of existing resources, and drives organizational efficiencies that affect an organization's bottom-line business objectives. To explain how information control is an integral component of quality management, this article examines the challenges associated with manual quality processes, the types of content typically managed within a quality management system, how data management can improve compliance-related activities, and how an effective solution for information control can significantly improve quality systems and …

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Great article. As the MS SharePoint 2013 Program Manager for a state government, I appreciated the importance of document management/content management.
--Bill Minckler, 08-29-2013

Thanks for the article, Greg. While you make a strong case for discarding manual document control systems, I think an description of electronic solutions, or their desired characteristics, would have complemented the article nicely.

Some electronic solutions are of little or no improvement over manual systems. Storing "office" docs in a server, for example, is no big improvement regardless of folder organization. Sharepoint implementations can easily get buried in the avalanche that you mention unless specific procedural steps are implemented to avoid this.

As you point out, increasing quality usually requires increasing documentation. Except that, with traditional document management systems (manual or electronic), the increasing complexity of documentation becomes unmanageable. The difficulty in finding documents and learning how they interrelate grows much faster than the number of documents themselves. This leads many to advice to keep "minimal documentation", but that's a recipe for minimal quality.

A search function in electronic systems is great, but it still has limited value, because even as it helps finding documents, it rarely simplifies how documents interrelate.

Electronic document management only has hope of beating the complexity avalanche that you describe by enabling the creation of a small-world network of documents. A small-world network is one in which every document is connected to every other document by a very small number of clicks (practically, say, 2 to 4). Building the network has to be done procedurally in order to work. It can and should be specified right in the document creation procedure. Contextual links and category-navigation panels are the most useful "tools" in reducing documentation complexity, and these tools are incredibly easy to build in some systems, like wikis.

So for an electronic solution to be a real improvement over manual document management, the most important feature is that the software allows creation of an effective small-world network of documents. That feature transforms document management and data management into true knowledge management.
--Pancho Castano, 05-08-2013

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