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Can a Document Control System Help Your Certification Program?

November 10, 2017  | By  | Leave a comment

We’ve all noticed the change in the composition of companies today. Projects are completed by teams comprised of members located across the globe, working in different time zones, and on different device types. The trend of a remote workforce continues to grow, and team meetings involve less face-to-face collaboration and more and more web-based interactions. So what does this shift mean for your certification program? Likely, it means positive changes such as better work product through diverse viewpoints, but it can also have negative implications, like document versioning nightmares!

How many times have you opened a shared network folder and seen a multitude of versions of the same document, or tried to edit something and can’t because another employee left the file open? Or worse still, invested hours in updating a document, just to find out your colleague made their own edits and you now have to consolidate two different versions?

Controlling your program’s documents is not only a necessity in order to maintain organization and accuracy, but also a requirement for any certification program with aspirations of gaining accreditation through ANSI against ISO/IEC 17024. 17024 identifies document control as an important component of the program’s management system. But exactly what does document control mean, and what steps must you take to implement policies, procedures, or software that helps your certification program take back control?

First, let’s establish what is meant  by “document control system”.  In some cases this could mean specialized software designed to maintain all of a program’s documents, but at minimum, it means having simple, but effective policies and procedures that ensure 1) proper reviews and approvals of controlled documents at creation and revision, 2) the correct versions of documents are readily accessible and legible for users, and 3) updates and changes are communicated to applicable parties.

Second, let’s think about implementation:

Step 1: Conduct a Needs Assessment and Establish Parameters

If your company runs a small certification program with a small staff, your needs may be different than that of a large company with multiple certification programs operated by hundreds of employees located worldwide.

Determine the types, volume, and needs of your company’s documents and files. Start asking (and recording) as many questions and answers as you can, for example:

  • What file types need to be supported?
  • What documents change all the time / what documents rarely change?
  • Who needs to review and approve changes to documents?
  • Is there a formal review and approval process / if not, what should one look like?

Beyond functionality, think about your company’s financial and HR constraints. Ensure that you have the bandwidth to develop your document control policies and procedures, or plan a time that you will be capable of completing this project. Determine what your budget is for a document control system. There are ways to ensure compliance with the accreditation requirements of ISO/IEC 17024 that are free, but there is also the option for using software that makes the process much more seamless and effective which costs… and costs can vary greatly depending on which vendors you’re considering and what features you want.

Step 2: Gain Stakeholder Input

If you want employees to adopt your document control system, then obtain their input! No one likes having a system or process forced upon them, so take the time and effort to find out their needs, and offer the opportunity to provide feedback during the development and implementation phases. In the long-run, you will have better buy-in and greater success.

Step 3: Conduct Your Research

Unfortunately, there is very little transparency with respect to pricing for document control software vendors. If you’ve made the determination that you need document control specific software, you will learn quickly that getting straight answers out of vendors can be cumbersome. Sales reps are not likely to provide you with pricing until you’ve sat through a product demo, and you may waste a lot of time learning how great a system is only to learn it’s outside your budget. Be upfront with vendors about budgetary limitations, and weed out systems you can’t afford before you fall in love with something that isn’t financially viable. Also, talk to your industry partners. Find out what they use for document control systems and start making a short list of vendors that have already been tested by other companies with similar needs.

During the research phase, be sure to keep detailed notes and comparison charts of each vendor’s costs, limitations, and features.

Step 4: Beta Test, Beta Test, Beta Test!

Before jumping feet first into a system, sign a contract, and force it on employees, make sure you invest the time in testing it out. Many vendors are willing to set you up with a trial account to test out their system. If you can, have a few employees work within the system and see what issues come up during the testing phase.

Step 5: Setting Policies and Procedures

Whether you are implementing new software that needs established processes, or only developing policies and procedures to control your documents, be sure you think through your existing processes and create policies and procedures that will help your program, not hinder it. Document control policies and procedures should make life more simple, streamlined, and efficient – don’t create policies that only make life more difficult for you and your employees.

Step 6: Implementation and Training

Take advantage of the expertise of your vendor, recommendations from accreditation consultants and industry partners, feedback you’ve obtained from employees, and samples of existing document control policies and procedures already in existence. Don’t rush through implementation in order to have it done by an arbitrary deadline. Do it right the first time, and plan the necessary phases accordingly. Generating policies and procedures that work FOR your company can be tricky and organizing years of files can be slow, but if done correctly, a document control system will save you time and eliminate the confusion caused by document disorganization.

Make sure users receive proper training and education on the system. You can build the greatest document control system in the world, but if no one understands it, your system will be ineffective. Train users both on system functionalities, and why the functionalities matter.  If employees understand why you’ve invested resources in a document control system, they’ll likely have stronger buy-in.

Step 7: Continuous Improvement and Analysis for Your Certification Program’s Document Control System

Be sure to spend time after implementation analyzing your system, and your policies and procedures. It may take time to acclimate everyone to a new system, but if it isn’t working or if it could be working better, don’t be afraid to make the necessary adjustments.  Just as with policies, document control systems should accommodate changes to and developments within your certification program.

For more articles on accreditation related topics, check out How A Threat Analysis Can Help Safeguard Impartiality or ISO/IEC 17024 Implementation Around the World

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