Successfully implementing a new Document Management system is like a game of “Snakes and Ladders”. The goal at the top of the board is a clean, reliable store of valuable documents that each member of your organisation can access, use and update quickly, by following a simple step by step procedure. With a bit of luck, each person will progress rapidly and succeed. But get it wrong and they will slip backwards at every other attempt.
Your organisation’s Document Management is not a game though. You can’t rely on luck to achieve your goal. Instead, you plan where to put all the ladders that help towards success; you know where all the snakes lurk and avoid them.
In one recent project, Appetite worked with a major Oil & Gas company to implement a new Document Management system. The implementation project was broken down into stages – each stage being geared towards this very goal. In the process, the company moved from several different historic systems & platforms to a SharePoint-based system. The North Sea wells team was one of the first to implement what then became a global system for all regions and functions. Over 1 million documents were cleansed and rationalised into a 300,000 document set stored in a folder structure common across all wells.
Here is the 8 stage process to guide you through the hazards of implementing a document management system – avoid the snakes – and climb the ladders.
Stage 1. Clearly identify and focus on your goal – a structure and procedure that is right for your business.
Structure and procedure go hand in hand. One is no use without the other. The structure of your storage system should reflect the structure of your organisation or team and the procedure must be relevant to the culture of your users. There is no point in trying to implement a storage structure developed by someone who does not fully understand your business. And the procedure must come naturally to your team.
Stage 2. Understand your reason – or why bother?
What has brought you to the point of needing to implement a new Document Management System? Most likely many, many years of struggling to find reliable, final versions of documents that you know have been created and stored somewhere by someone. Hours of frustration at having to redo lengthy planning and costly research that has probably already been done several times in the past. How many more times are you going to have to do that if you don’t sort out the problem?
Stage 3. Make sure everyone is willing to play the game
..and not give up the first time they slip backwards. There will be problems to overcome. Not everyone will be faced with the same problem. But each member of the team has to be prepared to deal with the problem and keep going till the goal is reached. A committed team – from leadership right down through the organisation – is essential.
Stage 4. Choosing the right system / developer.
Is an off-the shelf system right for your organisation or do you absolutely need a custom built system? Custom built systems can be very costly and the added benefits do not always merit the extra cost. An off-the-shelf system by a major developer will generally continue to be improved, updated and supported in the future at relatively little cost. Customised systems may be slower and more expensive to update in the future. You may be able to develop a system that is exactly right for your organisation, but remember – there is no such thing as a reliable estimate when it comes to cost. Estimates are, by definition fluid, and estimate costs usually only move in one direction.
Stage 5. Make time for a clear out
This is possibly the only chance you’ll get to deal with the rubbish that has accumulated over the years along with the valuable stuff. Like moving house, don’t take the rubbish with you. You’ll never get rid of it once it’s installed in its new location. Duplicate files from different locations, draft versions, backup versions, temp files, meeting agendas, incomplete files, – these can obviously be removed. However, if a document contains no reliable approval or authentication, would you really want to base future plans on them? Separate the authenticated from unauthenticated documents. The latter may be interesting, even useful. However they should not dilute the trustworthiness of the new store. File them in an area clearly identified as “unauthenticated”. Do you have time to implement a clear naming convention for files? Few organisations bothered with this historically, but more of us are now overwhelmed by the sea of documents that have been amassed with unrecognisable names. Whether or not you do plan a naming convention for files – a simple, consistent, clearly labelled folder structure is a minimum requirement. Remember – the longer the names and paths, the more likely it is to fail. Make sure your new system is compatible with the names / paths / characters from your old system. A few disallowed characters Iike “/” or “&” (even blank spaces) can lead to a serious headache.
Stage 6. Manage the project
This is probably the single most important element. A good project manager is worth his/her weight in gold. The project manager will ensure that the development / implementation team never loses sight of what the users need and that you won’t face any unpleasant surprises towards go-live. The project manager must be able to understand and communicate effectively on both system and user issues. Regular reports – clearly documented and delivered are essential.
Stage 7. Plan for go-live – Listen and educate.
Communicating with users about progress and expectations is another key to success. Listen to feedback and concerns from users and deal with them before expecting them to adopt a new system. We all instinctively save our files to our hard disk or shared servers as a temporary measure. We all instinctively keep working from that location. Changing instinctive behaviour takes consistent, repeated persuasion. Don’t expect behaviour to change automatically or overnight. Plan the transition, communicate the shutdown/start-up clearly. Dealing with historic documents is relatively simple; dealing with live documents is more delicate. Training is a must – but again don’t expect this to be a one-off event. Training just before go-live should inspire and motivate your team. However a bit of hand-holding after go-live is a worth-while investment. It will make it more likely that users will adopt the system correctly and follow procedures with more discipline and determination.
Stage 8. Beware of the snakes that lurk at the end square
You’ve reached your goal. You have a reliable document management system and procedure in place. However, if you lose focus even after you’ve reached this end square, you should expect users to slip back to old behaviours. Frustrations with teething problems, training, speed or performance issues, inconsistencies, lack of support, old systems not being transitioned / decommissioned properly, lack of clarity or understanding of procedures – all these snakes and more are lurking at the end square. Implementing a document management system is not a one-off, finite event. It is a long term commitment. But if you do it well, your organisation will enjoy many years of benefits in the form of hours saved each week by every person searching for, referring to, updating or storing documents that hold the key to your company’s success – knowledge.
If you would like to chat to us about on boarding and how Appetite can help you we’d love to hear from you.