Most people who have an attic or a basement have experienced how it slowly fills up with things that should instead be thrown out or given away. Over time, it can become so chaotic that you end up buying something new that you actually already have deep in storage.
This is not only true in the home, but also very much so for businesses. Here, however, it is not boxes of heirlooms and discarded toys that are being stored, but huge amounts of documentation.
In this article, we focus on how to regain control of your documentation with thorough, and in the long term, ongoing cleaning.

In many companies, virtually all documentation is kept – because it is easy, and out of fear of accidentally deleting essential documents. Unfortunately, there is rarely an accompanying good routine for tidying up and maintaining the documentation. As a result, systems are clogged with redundant, invalid, and irrelevant documentation, and inadequate metadata. We might also end up creating the same documents over and over, simply because we have lost overview.

What Does it Mean to Tidy Up Documentation

Tidying up documentation means identifying redundant, invalid or irrelevant data. This could be two identical documents; a document with a document owner who is no longer in the organisation; or documentation whose content is out of date. In addition to identifying redundant documents, the tidying up is also about organising the documentation that you want to keep.

The process thus considers the tidying up of the documents themselves and, in particular, the quality of the documents’ metadata in terms of enriching key information. For example free text fields, where many different values and varieties have been written over time. Tidying up may also include reorganisation and classification where metadata is found to be deficient.

Where Is It Relevant?

Often, the organisation’s documentation is thought to be dynamic. However, the reality is that documentation is often allowed to slowly fester, to the frustration of the users of the documentation – can the documentation be trusted or not? Which version is the most recent and valid? etc.

At the same time, there is a tendency for the documentation that is no longer dynamic as it is finished and therefore should be archived, to be strewn higgledy-piggledy among the dynamic files. A further source of uncertainty and frustration for users of the documentation. Most organisations would therefore benefit from a thorough tidying up of their documentation.

Regulated Industries

In regulated industries there are formal requirements defined for documentation. Therefore, good processes for handling and storing documentation are often in place. However, the focus is primarily on document validity and retention, rather than on how easily it can be retrieved. There will always be a percentage that falls outside or is not relevant, and here too a tidying-up would make sense. Especially in the Life Science industry, where ‘inspection readiness’ is essential, it is a good idea to have your documents and structures cleaned up.

Other Industries

In other industries, without regulatory requirements for the documentation, there are legal requirements (GDPR, Accounting Law. etc.) which entail a need for tidying up. Here, documentation requirements may be more informal, which often leads to processes for maintaining and tidying up documentation being a little less strict. Again, a tidying up would make a lot of sense.

Tidying up the documentation can be an end goal in itself, but it can also be seen as a precursor to an archiving process. Documentation that is inactive and no longer needs to be updated should be archived and documentation that is outdated and irrelevant should be deleted, in accordance with GDPR and similar legislation.
Finally, it may also make sense to think about tidying up if you have two systems with some overlap and redundancy in documentation, e.g. an ESDH system and a CRM system.

Why Spend Resources On Tidying Up?

Disorder in the documentation and its metadata can have an impact on the integrity and legal validity of the document – Who created the document and when? Is the document approved or not? etc. It is also related to the aforementioned ‘inspection readiness’ and legal proceedings, where not having the documentation in order can have major consequences.

In addition to the formal and informal requirements for documentation, tidying up the documentation will certainly provide valid metadata and high quality documentation. It will enhance the user experience, by reducing frustrations and doubts of the users of the documentation. Simultaneously, it will create renewed value for the company, because time wasted looking for the needle in the haystack or getting to the bottom of which version of a given document is now the right one can be spent on more profitable tasks focused on the core business.

Last but not least, there is the environment. Untidy documentation means that the amount of documentation is much larger than necessary, as there will certainly be documentation hidden that can be deleted. By reducing the amount of documentation, one also reduces the need for storage space, backup and processing power. This will not only have an economic benefit, but also an environmental one.

When To Tidy Up The Documentation?

The cheeky answer is: Continuously. But we are well aware that many factors play a role in whether there is a focus on tidying up on a daily basis. Nor should we underestimate the fact that there are people who use and handle the documentation and that, no matter how hard you try, there will always be a certain amount of errors and inaccuracies.

Occasionally, the point where it is time to tidy up is reached. Here are some ideas for things that might hint that a tidying up is due:

Have there been multiple system changes?

If there was not allocated time to tidy up during the system change, but the documentation was simply moved uncritically, then the problems moved along. The old mess will remain and more will be generated, as the old documentation is not adapted to the structure of the new system. The mess in the documentation will accumulate with the number of system changes.

Has the organisation undergone restructuring?

If there have been changes in the organizational structure or major staff changes, this will have an impact on the documentation. Document owners may have left the organisation or departments may have been closed, resulting in outdated metadata.

Has the company made any acquisitions/sales?

If the documentation of an acquired company has been added more or less uncritically, there may be good reason to consider a clean-up. Similarly, if part of the company is sold off, it may make sense to clean up the structure and metadata of the documentation that no longer fits with the new organisation.

Is there an increasing tendency for users to store documentation on their own PC or in other places than intended?

Water always finds the easiest way to run. The same is true for documentation. If the existing framework and processes for storing and retrieving documentation are not intuitive, many users will quickly start inventing their own solutions.

Are there any other trends that might suggest that the time is ripe for a tidying up?

These could be increasing negative attitudes towards the way documentation is handled and stored in the organisation. This could manifest itself as ‘grumbling in the corridors’, or by tasks starting to take longer than usual. All of these can be signs that existing documentation is difficult to find and that users therefore feel they are wasting time with unnecessary work.

If you can tick off one or more of the points above, your should consider tidying up your documentation. You can read more about how to actually go about it in the article “Tidying up the documentation – What does it take?” and se how Strator can help you HERE.