Document management is a way of referring to how documents are stored, retrieved and updated. It’s simply a way of organizing your files so that you can get hold of them when you need them again.
Typically, document management these days refers to how you store electronic files. As there are a lot of documents involved with managing projects and running a PMO, it’s important to have an approach to how you are going to deal with them all. Reporting is a key function of a PMO. Without a strategy, you’ll find your teams drowning in files and wasting a lot of time.
What are the benefits of document management?
The main benefit of document management is that having a system saves you time. Remember the last time you tried to find a file and couldn’t remember where it was stored. It’s very frustrating to have to search through multiple folders, hoping that you remember the filename. If a document was saved by someone else, you might not be able to find it at all, especially if the filename is something that doesn’t mean anything to you. The amount of business hours wasted searching for documentation is significant. You can massively increase productivity just by adding some structure around how project teams create and file information.
Another benefit of document management is that everything is on hand if the project is audited. Whether that’s an internal audit or something more formal, you’ll be able to easily find what you need to support the audit. Again, there’s a time benefit here. If the project team are desperately trying to find the paperwork the auditors have asked for, you lose time on the delivery side. Audits are less disruptive to project timescales when paperwork can be easily found.
Third, having a common approach to document management saves you time when you set up a new project. When you’ve got a selection of pre-existing documents to choose from, you shorten the length of time it takes to write a new one. Copy and paste the relevant sections, or choose an old document to use as a template.
What documents do you have?
Before you create a PMO document management system, think about the kinds of documents you have. Many files are created during a project: everything from a business case through to detailed requirements descriptions and weekly status reports. However, as a PMO team you don’t need sight of all of them.
Consider the key documents that you require to be able to help move projects through the life cycle. You may want to mandate how project managers store these common documents, and let project managers decide how and where to file other information. For an individual project, key documents could include:
- The project “idea” in whatever form that arrives at the PMO
- The business case
- The project initiation document or charter – now we are in the realms of documentation produced by the project team
- Monthly project status reports and dashboards
- Project board or Steering Committee minutes
- Project closure report and lessons learned documentation
You might have other key documents that you want to store in a retrievable way – the list is likely to be personal to the way your PMO works. The objective is to create a standard list of mandatory documents that the PMO needs to have copies of for each project. Do the same for programs and create a standard list for them too.
On top of project and program documentation, you’ll have information that relates to the running of the PMO. This could be monthly portfolio reports, quarterly trends analysis, or other types of summary documents. All of these need to be stored in a way that makes them easy to retrieve when necessary. Imagine what it would be like if a senior exec asked for your last quarterly report and you couldn’t find it while they were standing at your desk. They might even wonder if you had prepared the report at all.
Where are the documents?
Often, people think that they need to introduce new document storage facilities or to create a new network drive for filing “official” PMO copies of documentation. That just adds to the mountain of electronic filing you have in the business. It also increases the risk that the PMO copy will not be the latest version of any given file.
You can create a centralized document repository for the PMO, but be aware of the limitations of doing so.
Another approach is to record where each type of document is stored natively, and retrieve it from there. In other words, where has the project manager filed it? If you can link to the file or access it directly from the project manager’s file storage system, then that saves having another copy of the document.
Even better, get project teams into the habit of uploading files into the project management software that you use. Make the most of the technology you have by using built-in dashboards, for example, instead of exporting data and creating dashboard reports manually in presentations.
Creating guidelines for teams
Many PMOs set guidelines for where project teams should keep their documents. For example, you might mandate that files are uploaded into the project management software wherever possible. You may specify a shared network drive and the folders that should be created within it. It’s important to give project managers some latitude to organize things the way they see fit, but the more standardization you can introduce, the easier it will be for everyone to find the files they need when they need them.
Your guidelines could include:
- Statements around how files should be named including any common conventions you expect teams to use.
- Statements around where files should be stored. For example, it’s good practice not to store project information on a personal laptop hard drive, in case the laptop is lost or corrupted. Direct teams to store all files on shared storage that has proper backups in place. This could be a different location for different types of information.
- Statements around the directory structure and any mandatory folders you expect teams to have, along with what should go in them.
Share your draft guidelines with project managers in the team and see what suggestions they have. Together, you should be able to come up with a robust way of managing project-related information making the most of your project management software tools and in-built document storage capabilities.