Applying a Document Strategy Model

 

Published in TDAN.com October 2004

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.


Characteristics of the Process

Comprehensive, yet manageable. The process of designing a document strategy must be comprehensive enough to ensure that something important is not overlooked. It must also be
manageable enough to avoid the risk of a project so large and slow that nothing ever gets done. At one end of the spectrum, a “just do it” approach runs the risk that inadequate
planning will lead to wasted effort. At the other end of the range, an overly broad approach can invite “scope creep” and result in a project where objectives become moving targets and
decisions come slowly (if at all). Strike a balance between the two by focusing efforts on those areas that are the most important and the most likely to bring about worthwhile improvement.
Consider the “80/20” rule: it is likely that 80 percent of improvements can be found by concentrating on 20 percent of the overall scope.

 

Linked to company goals. Ultimately, the real test of your document strategy will be its effect on the performance of your company. Does your strategy decrease operating costs and
increase opportunities for revenue? Does it increase customer satisfaction? Does it serve executive vision? For your document strategy to appear on the corporate “radar screen” and gain
support it must bring about benefit and improvement in those areas that are of fundamental importance to your firm.

 

Clearly demonstrated measurements. Measuring and demonstrating improvement is critical for the ongoing success of your document strategy. The adage you can improve only that which
you can measure holds true. Measurements help answer three essential questions: Where are you now? Where do you want to go? How will you know you have arrived? Once your plan has been put into
place, measurements help demonstrate, in a quantifiable way, the results of your improvement efforts.

 

Addresses corporate culture. One very influential factor that is often avoided or overlooked is the influence of corporate culture on the design and outcome of a document strategy.
Internal politics, lack of support and resistance to change are all difficult and elusive factors that can quickly kill your document strategy. The questions are: How do you sell your document
strategy? How will people react to the changes you propose? Will the culture of your organization help your efforts or hinder your progress? The design of your strategy must account for the
cultural tides of your organization and look for ways to swim with the current rather than against the flow.

 

Facilitates implementation and evaluates results. The most well-conceived strategies are of little value if they are not executed effectively. To develop a vision is not enough.
For your document strategy to be of practical value it must facilitate specific actions to achieve specific goals. Once those actions are put into place, evaluation and re-measurement are vital
because the success of your strategy is known only if it can be demonstrated.

 


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 Document Strategy Model

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.


Baseline Assessment

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 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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About Kevin Craine

The author, Kevin Craine, EDPP is Supervisor of the Output Management, Electronic Publishing and Corporate Forms departments for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon. Kevin can be reached at 503/225-5213. Visit his web site at: http://members.aol.com/kccrain/craine.html.

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