Where documents go to die... PDF Print E-mail
Why are most documents created for projects never reviewed after approval?

Once upon a time, I was consulting for a company in Florida who was implementing controls in their systems. The management was insistent that every step of the process be documented to the letter. As the project manager, I began to carry these requests out with the project team I was working for. In almost every case, the employees of this firm were vehement in their opposition to the formal documents I was requesting.

I began mulling this over  – why is the management of many companies enamored with documentation but the working masses so resistant to the idea? There is an obvious answer – management think it’s a good idea to record project facts but documentation isn’t the sexiest process and people don’t want to work anymore than they have to. That, however, seems just too simple.

Then I had an enlightening conversation with a peer who gave me another reason – this one much more compelling. He maintained that the documentation effort was a waste of time – that the people asking for it never read it, the people implementing the project never looked at it and the documentation was never, ever reviewed after the project completed. He plainly stated that, “If we are supposed to be increasing efficiency and doing more with less, why on earth would we generate documents we never use?”

Facts are that most companies generate documents because they think they are supposed to. Most never effectively review their documentation and even fewer actually use the documents as reference points at some time in the future. I have generated my fair share of digital waste and it doesn’t bode well that documents generated with such fervor are ignored and forgotten. Why does it happen?

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have some common conditions that have proven true for me over time:
• Really smart people don’t relish “leaning” on others work; they would rather create from scratch than reuse or reference documentation from the past. This is an unspoken ego issue where if “I didn’t create it, it can’t be worth much” is very short sighted.
• The answers have changed. Said differently, the premise and reference the documentation brings to the new project is largely irrelevant and is perceived to be a waste of the teams’ time to review and dissect.
• Shortsighted planning causes temporary amnesia. Because many efforts aren’t effectively planned and architected, the team members who remember the documentation efforts are either blinded by furious activity or maybe brought into the process too late to leverage the existing docs. Either way, history is forgotten and doomed to repeat.
• Attribution causes incorrect perceptions. This occurs when team members have a bad experience with documentation or reference materials from the past and they paint the whole concept of project documentation with a brush of irrelevance. Once a pattern emerges where some consider the documentation worthless, it is likely that the quality of the docs will drop and the usage of them for future efforts will dwindle even more.

All of these generate one very bad result – waste. Project documentation can provide insight into customer requirements which don’t generally change that radically over time. They can show lessons from the past that can be leveraged in the future. They can shine a light on roadblocks that arose technically and move those roadblocks out of the way before they emerge. They can only do this, however, when the organization generating the documentation decides in advance to foster an attitude of documenting project artifacts for reasons other than it has always been done this way.
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