Most of the projects I’ve run in recent years have involved just a few documents and all control of those documents can be handled through the use of the following:

  • A version table at the beginning of the document
  • A standardized file naming structure
  • A document status section on the status report
  • Formal signoff sheets for delivery team and customer

However, if your project is extremely large, looks like a large program rather than a project, or has a government agency or institution as it’s customer, it may be prudent and even necessary to use a formal document control plan to outline the process you – the project manager – will use to manage the various documents that will be created, reviewed, and approved during the course of the engagement.Only do this if it’s beneficial for the project and for both teams as I certainly don’t believe in doing extra work just for the sake of doing extra work. But a solid document control plan can be beneficial in the right situation.

I don’t have one of my own, so I’m including Carl Pritchard’s description of a document control plan as laid out in his book “The Project Management Communications Toolkit. If it’s something your project needs, then I think you’ll find this information very useful.

The Document Control Plan

Purpose

The document control plan is an outline or guide on how physical or virtual documents will be managed throughout the life of the project. It provides a road map for tracking documents and for adding, archiving, and removing new documentation from the process.

Application

The document control plan is used whenever sufficient documentation exists to warrant a specific process for the control, sequencing, and maintenance of documentation through multiple channels. It is initiated to ensure that those involved with the project share an understanding of how information in the project will be managed and who will have access to which documentation at which point in time. It is used during the project as both affirmation of the process and as the means to educate others on the process application.

Content

A document control plan may consist of little more than an index of available documentation and its intended locations, or, in more ornate applications, it may consist of a matrix of documents and their owners, locations, update schedules, circulation lists, archival locations, and destruction dates. Some of the common issues with document control are evident. Depending on how the document is crafted, it may be necessary to update the document control document any time a document is updated. Such would be the case with the “Location” column, for example, because each document is called out in its most current version. By contrast, if a wildcard location is called out (in, say, an “Archive” column), then the document control plan may go for a more extended period without an update. Similarly, if team and organizational titles are identified, rather than names, the need for frequent updates may be lessened significantly.

Approaches

The document control plan can be approached in a variety of ways, including straight narrative or the tabular format shown here. There are normally extensive cross-references to other documentation and to storage repositories within the organization. Document control frequently incorporates the protocols for version control of documentation as well. This may be as simple as incrementally renaming files as new iterations are created (e.g., Document01, Document02, Document03) or may involve protocols that address authorship, ownership, or the responsible party for the latest iterations (e.g., Document01.Bob03, Document01.Bob03-Martin01). The rationale for and description of the approach(es) should be clearly delineated in the narrative associated with the document control plan.

Considerations

While project managers may be tempted to arbitrarily set the archive and destruction dates for aging documents, the legal aspects of document maintenance need to be considered. Project organizations have legal responsibilities to their clients and to their governments and regulators to maintain certain documents. The laws regarding document retention vary from region to region and agency to agency. Before establishing (and implementing) document destruction protocols, legal counsel should be sought.