Your department has worked hard to create user guides, training programs or governance documentation to help your company run smoothly and be compliant. What happens when something changes, and your documentation needs to be updated? Regulatory, technical or organisational changes can force you to run your documentation through a maintenance cycle. A maintenance cycle is a controlled process where required changes are made to your documentation to keep them current and/or compliant.
Keeping your business documentation current can be challenging, given all the other priorities competing for your attention. Realise that without a maintenance plan in place, you risk these consequences:
- Safety risk – Outdated procedures or training materials may put employees at risk.
- Compliance risk – Outdated documentation could make you non-compliant.
- Eventual rework – Costs time and money.
- Reputational damage – Outdated documentation can hurt your corporate image.
The following is a recommended process for establishing a basic maintenance cycle in your organisation. Your actual steps may vary.
1. Determine when you will do your maintenance. Will this be quarterly, yearly, every couple of years or as needed?
2. Identify who will be involved in this maintenance cycle. You will need at least the following:
i. Stakeholders – To review and sign off on the documentation.
ii. Subject matter experts – This depends on the industry. Some examples are engineers and software programmers.
iii. Technical writer(s) and editor (s) – The number will depend on the size of the project.
iv. Document management – Mandatory if reissuing governance documents.
v. Webmaster – Required if content needs to be posted online.
3. Communicate the process, and the reason for it, to the team.
4. Identify what needs to be changed – This is done by the subject matter experts.
5. Categorise the changes:
i. Critical – Needs to be made immediately.
ii. Required – Can be made during the next maintenance cycle.
6. Implement the changes – Technical writer(s) will make the updates in the documentation.
7. Review the changes – Subject matter experts will review the updated content to ensure it’s correct.
8. Edit the content – The editor will review the updated content to ensure that it’s clean.
9. Review the changes – The stakeholders will review the content before signing off on it.
10. Lock the content – The content will be locked down or password protected, so no changes can be made outside of the maintenance cycle period. This measure preserves the integrity of the content.
11. Publish the content. Publicise that the content has been updated and provide a link to where it can be viewed.
A maintenance cycle can be a lot of work, depending on the size and scope of your project, but it’s essential for avoiding the negative consequences mentioned previously. You now have a process for ensuring your business documentation can be updated proactively. Choose the right people, communicate the process, execute and then get sign off. This a starting point. Feel free to modify the process and make it work for you.