Document control numbering is the use of a system for document numbering that allows you to create, store and then access documents in an organized manner.
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A Simple Document Numbering System
The simplest form of a document numbering system is the file and folder names that we use on a daily basis. The purpose of the file name is to help us remember the purpose of the file and the type of data that it contains. We use folders to group files of the same type.
For example, if you manage your monthly household budget by using spreadsheet software such as Excel, you might assign a document name that contains the name of the month. For a particular calendar or financial year, you may store all the monthly budget files in a single folder that is named for the particular year. In this way you know where your monthly budgets are stored, and you can easily access them whenever required.
This system works well when the number of files is limited. However when we consider organizations where hundreds or thousands of documents are generated each day, then this simple system does not work. You might try to give descriptive document names, but the problem with that approach is that document names will get excessively long. This will make document management difficult for you and for the electronic document management systems that you use.
Before we get into further detail about document numbering systems, let's first discuss document control and why it is required.
What is Document Control?
Document control refers to the profession and practice of ensuring that approved document management standards are followed for document creation, review, modification, issuance, distribution, and accessibility.
Document control is a key component of organizational risk management.
Document control procedures ensure that the information contained in organizational documents is accurate and up-to-date, is updated regularly and that the proper process for documents updates is followed.
Document control procedures also ensure that inaccurate or obsolete documents are removed.
Why is Document Control Required?
Organizations cannot function properly without standards-based document control.
The purpose of document control is to ensure that documentation is trusted by users. Document control is required to ensure that organizational documents are
- Created after going through the proper review and approvals process.
- Distributed to authorized personnel only.
- Accurate and up-to-date.
Document control also creates auditable records of document creation, modification, and exchange.
How Does Document Control Numbering Assist with Document Control?
Each organization is made up of several departments. Each department has multiple employees who work on various projects and tasks. Every day hundreds of documents are created, reviewed, approved, distributed, stored, and accessed.
If a document numbering system is in place, then departments and employees know how to name documents that are related to different purposes, projects, and tasks, how to store them, and how to access them. And this does not apply only to unique documents, but also to updated versions of the same type of document.
What is Version Control?
Version control is a method of managing multiple versions of the same document, particularly when it is important to keep a record of how the document was created and changed over time.
Each time the document is revised a revision number is applied, which enables you to identify the latest version of the document and differentiate between drafts and final approved versions of the document.
Version control is helpful in a collaborative environment, where a number of different contributors may be working on the development of a document and it is important to track changes, capture key decisions, and document the reviewing process.
Version control is often applied to the key documents such as policies, procedures, and strategic plans, particularly when these documents are reviewed and updated on a regular basis and it is essential to know which version is currently in force, or which version was in force, at a particular point in time
A Sample Document Control Numbering System
To consider what a document numbering system would look like, let's take the case of a company with eight departments such as HR, Finance, Accounts, Engineering, Administration, IT, Sales, and Marketing.
The first part of the document number would indicate the company and could be an abbreviation of the company name such as APL for Apple.
Most companies are operating across multiple locations. The second part of the document number could be an abbreviation for the location such as NYC for New York City.
The third part of the document number could indicate the department or division, for example, HR for the Human Resouce department, IT for the Information Technology department, and so on.
The fourth part of the document number could indicate the type of document; for example, the SOP for the standard operating procedure or POL for policy.
The fifth part of the document number could indicate the process level. For example, AP for accounts payable or AR for accounts receivable.
The sixth part of the document number could indicate the procedure level, which would be a sequential number for each procedure.
The final part of the document number could indicate the document version and use a revision number such as V1 for the first version, V2 for the second version, and so on.
How to Setup Document Control Numbering?
Identify Your Requirements
The most important thing to consider when setting up a document control numbering system is your requirements. The system that you use could be a complex system or something that is quite simple, but it has to satisfy your organizational requirements.
Develop a Document Control Numbering System
Once you have identified all your requirements, the next step is to develop a system or structure for document control numbering. The structure could be something like the sample numbering system that was discussed above, or it could be different. Again the document numbers would depend on the document properties, which depend on your departmental and organizational requirements.
Implement the Document Control System
Document control numbers are one aspect of the overall document management system or the document control system that you would deploy for your organization. Other aspects of document management include processes and procedures for document creating, storage, access, distribution and update.
Electronic Document Management System
Most organizations in this day and age use electronic document management systems (EDMS). Setting up the document control system would include selecting an EDMS and then configuring it to use the document control numbers that you have developed.
Once the systems are set up, your staff for all departments would need to know and understand the document management systems before they could use them properly. Your training strategy could consist of an initial training session and a few refresher sessions when required.
You can also include the essentials of your document control strategy in the respective employee handbooks that are provided to every employee. This would enable the employees to refer to handbooks and get the required information easily whenever they need to.
Test the Document Control System
Once the system is set up and employees have received initial training, you can then test it. In the beginning, every system goes through a few hiccups as people learn how to use it. A few unexpected issues can also arise.
It could even happen that an employee, who knows the details much better than people working higher up, might propose a better structure for document control numbers.
And something like this is one of the benefits of the test phase in that you learn about what works, what doesn't, and what changes are required that will help the system function smoothly in the long term.
Review and Update the Document Control System
Based on the observations and feedback received during the test phase, you can make the required changes and update the system to incorporate the changes.
And this won't be the only time that you would need to make changes. Learning is an ongoing process. With time, new requirements will develop, and other significant changes might be required. You will need to update the document management system, including the numbering systems, when new needs and requirements arise.
Best Practices for Document Control Numbering
Align with Organizational Requirements
The document numbering system should be aligned with the needs of your organization and how it operates.
Take a Holistic View
Document control numbers should be viewed as one of the various aspects of a holistic document strategy and should be developed, designed, implemented, reviewed, and updated in accordance with the overall document control strategy.
Document control numbering is a tool that helps you manage documents. It is one component of a holistic document management system that helps you to ensure that documents are created, reviewed, modified, issued, distributed, and accessed according to approved procedures and standards.
Your organization's structure, product development, and marketing strategies are aligned to our organizational needs. Similarly, the document numbering system that you use should be aligned with the needs of your organization.
If you are new to document control management and are looking to learn more, we recommend taking our Technical Writing Certification Course, where you will learn the fundamentals of managing technical documentation.
Josh is the founder of Technical Writer HQ and Squibler, a writing software. He had his first job in technical writing for a video editing software company in 2014. Since then, he has written several books on software documentation, personal branding, and computer hacking. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.