By Kevin Craine
Once you decide to implement a document strategy, it is easy to become paralyzed by the complexity of the decision. The evolving role of documents, the complications of technology and the politics of corporate culture and change all conspire to make your task seem overwhelming. The vista of your document strategy can seem boundless. Navigating with a balance of strategic vision and tactical common sense is not easy without a clear map to provide direction. This can result in Blank Page Syndrome—a crippling affliction for a strategy architect—where the blank page looms gravely, ideas retreat to the farthest corner of inspiration and the expectations of management become seemingly unobtainable.
Faced with the enormity of designing a document strategy, it is tempting to look to hardware, software or the Internet for a shrink-wrapped solution. This approach is bound to fall short, however. Technology is only part of the equation and its purchase and deployment must be guided with an understanding of the role documents play in your organization and the needs of the people who use them.
Even if you recognize the importance of a document strategy, the question remains: How do I go about developing one? The answer to this question is not universal because different organizations will require different document strategies. What is needed most is a process to guide the development of your strategy so that it is meaningful, practical and ensures worthwhile and lasting results.
The Document-Strategy Model
With these basic characteristics in mind, consider the Document-Strategy Model as one approach to the design of a document strategy. This model is a useful guide and has five elements as a framework.
The DS Model is not intended to be linear. The overlapping circles of the model demonstrate that the steps will often overlap. You might find that you don’t need to follow every step in detail, or there are times when you must retrace your steps back to square one. The framework can and should be adapted to suit your particular situation, organization or requirement. The DS Model helps to provide focus, avoid pitfalls and save valuable time and energy.
The process starts with a Baseline Assessment that asks: Where are you, and where do you need to go? The assessment helps you “get located” by establishing a baseline about the purpose and direction of your organization, the needs, pressures and constraints it must satisfy and manage, and the hard numbers that measure its success. You will ask questions like:
- What needs must be satisfied? What pressures and constraints must be managed?
- What are the most important measures of your performance?
- What are your most important objectives?
- What are the initiatives underway to achieve those goals?
- What is your core business—your reason for being?
- How does your organization envision success?
Although these questions may seem simple, the answers are not always obvious. If you have any doubt, try the following experiment with the next five co-workers you meet. Ask each person to give a one-sentence answer to each of the questions above. Once you have gathered all of their answers, you will likely find significant disagreement in the responses.
A Baseline Assessment also explores the most pressing problems that challenge your company and the most advantageous opportunities for improvement.
Documents, Technology and People
One way to keep your document strategy manageable is to view it through three basic frames of reference: documents, technology and people. At the most fundamental level, this is what a document strategy is all about. Documents are the subject of your strategy, technology is how you produce them and people are why they exist.
- Which documents are most vital to the success of your organization?
- What technology is used to create them?
- Who are the people who use and care about these documents?
You will chart a meaningful course for your strategy by compiling a list of target documents, assessing how those documents are produced and understanding the needs of the people who use and care about them.
Problems and Solutions
In order to be successful, your document strategy must provide solutions to the problems in your current processes. It is impossible to determine appropriate solutions until you understand and define the problems that exist. You will do this by comparing how things are with the way they should be. You will examine how your current processes perform and determine whether or not they perform in ways that meet the needs of your organization. Once you have defined the problems that exist and determined their root cause(s), you will identify and select the best solutions to solve those problems and improve your processes.
- How does your document process really perform?
- How should the process perform in order to meet your needs and requirements?
- What problems prevent your document process from performing adequately, and why do they exist?
- How will you solve the problems you discover and make improvements to your process?
- What is the best solution among the many that may be available?
Selling Your Strategy and Managing Change
Next, the DS Model explores the critical need to sell your strategy and manage change. Your efforts are not likely to be successful if you do not enlist the support of decision-makers and co-workers. Selling your strategy requires a solid business case as well as the ability to “speak the language” of the people you aim to convince. You will do this by constructing a financial analysis and a formal proposal for your ideas and solutions. You will also examine ways to enlist the support of co-workers and decision-makers.
Change and corporate culture significantly influence your document strategy. To better manage change, you will explore the roles people play in a successful change initiative. You will also consider the natural and emotional reactions that people have during times of change. In addition, you will examine the cultural characteristics of your organization and how they will influence your efforts.
- How can you “sell” your document strategy to those who must approve and sponsor it?
- How will you get the support of your co-workers?
- How will people react to change?
- What is the prevailing culture of your organization?
- How will certain cultural characteristics influence the success of your strategy?
Project Planning and Implementation
Project planning and implementation is where all of your assessment, analysis and planning must come together. You must develop a project plan that will be clearly understood by everyone involved and guide your efforts to a successful implementation. You must challenge your assumptions, test your solutions and demonstrate your success. Some of the questions you will answer are:
- How will you implement your strategy? Who must do what … how … and when?
- What are the objectives you seek? What must you “deliver” in order to be successful?
- What are the risks associated with your plans, and how will you mitigate those risks?
- How will you assess and demonstrate your success?
The need to implement a document strategy is a topic that is often talked about. The fact remains, however, that designing a document strategy is a complicated and indistinct undertaking. The notion of creating a document strategy is made more mysterious because until now there has been no clear road map to guide the design of an effective plan. The inevitable lament is: “I know a document strategy is important, but how do I actually develop one?” “Designing a Document Strategy” is a book that provides a method and process to follow.
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Kevin Craine, MBA, is the author of Designing a Document Strategy, now sold in over 25 countries worldwide. His newest book, The Document Strategy Design Workbook, has just been released. For more information, or to contact Kevin, visit www.document-strategy.com.