Yesterday we looked at the steps involved in getting the procedures signed-off. Once the documents are signed off, we can now look at how to publish the SOPs.
This process is relatively simple… if the correct guidelines are in place. But guidelines I mean naming conventions, track changes have been applied correctly, the document is converted to PDF correctly, uploaded to the Document Management System, and outdated documents are moved to the Archive folders.
How to Control Documents
Think about it for a second. You’ve just revised an existing document that may be on the desks, hard-drives and server across the company.
How do you get the new version in front of people AND take the old version back off them. That’s it in a nutshell. And there are different ways to do it.
If you are the Document Owner, then it’s your responsibility to ensure the correct version is published – not only to the intranet but all places where you know people download and share the SOPs. To do this, you need to use a three-pronged attack:
Give advance notice that the SOPs are about to be changed. A short email with an attention grabbing headline should warn readers that the SOPs they are currently using will soon be out of date. If possible, give the date for the new, revised publication.
Email all Dept heads who use the SOP when it has been updated. Note: if the changes are minor, don’t annoy the team leads with these emails. Instead email those who use it most frequently. CC the Team Leads if you want.
Remind the Team Leads and Users a week after the document has been published that out-dated documents should be purged from their PCs. For major releases, you may need to find other ways to harvest out-dated documents.
Use Naming Conventions
Ensure that the correct naming conventions has been applied to the procedures. At a minimum, the documents should include details of the Document Type, Department, Date, and Status. For example, SOP-IT-070512-F.
This allows you to control documents and ensure that you can manage them more effectively. You may need to spend time teaching your Procedure Writers how to use Naming Conventions. Keep an eye on how they do this as there will always be teething pains. Don’t assume the ‘experienced’ writers know how to do this correctly. Some samples and Style Guides always help.
Check Track Changes
If you use MS Word, then you probably use Track Changes to add comments when reviewing the documents. This is usually easy to manage if there is only one document review. You simply accept the changes and update the document.
However, be careful if there are multiple changes from different authors to the same document. This can look like a spider’s web of scribbles. Look at each review one by one and make sure the correct text is updated. When three of four reviewers add their own comments, check that the final text agrees with ALL comments, not just the last one.
Convert to PDF
Most MS Word documents are then converted into Adobe PDF. This lets you share the document over the web without others changing the text.
You can apply a range of security settings to the PDFs. This include:
- Password protect the SOP.
- Adding a navigation menu.
- Create hyperlinks to other documents.
- Ensure that readers cannot copy and paste text from the PDF.
- Stop readers from printing it out. To do this, get the full Acrobat suite (the Reader isn’t enough) or look at other PDF tools that let you control the document settings.
- Apply metadata to the PDF, such as the Author’s name, keywords and other file properties.
- Optimize the PDF for Print, Web or Screen reading. This may impact the quality of images used in the PDF and the file needs to be compressed for faster downloading.
Uploaded to Document Management System
Once the PDF is in good shape, upload it to where you store your SOPs. In general, you should had a dedicated area on the network where all SOPs are filed.
Not only is this best practice, but it helps you control the documents and simplify the management process. If your SOPs are scattered across the network, they become very difficult to control. Outdated documents will stay in circulation under-mining the good work your team has put in and possibly jeopardizing the safety of those who use the SOPs.
Here’s one approach:
- Create a folder for each department.
- In each folder, create two sub-folders. Final and Archive.
- Upload the final documents to the Final folder.
- Move the out-dated files to the Archive folder.
- Create a Trash folder and more all fragments and incorrectly labelled documents here.
A simple filing structure lets others see where the correct documents are stored. Avoid the temptation to create complex filing structures. You’ll end up in knots trying to work out where you put things.
Create an Archive
Move outdated documents into the Archive folder. Note that this folder may have several versions of the same document. Check that the naming conventions have been applied correctly. All documents should following the same numbering system. If not, look into it as one of your team may understand how to apply these correctly.
Is it 0705 or 0507?
It depends where you are?
In some parts of the world, it’s Month and then Day. In others, it’s Day and then Month.
Watch out for this when the Dates can be interpreted either way.
0705 could be the seventh of May or the fifth or July.
Depends where you are…
Backup Very ‘Olde’ Documents to Tape
Consider purging documents when they are over X number of years old. Or remove them from the network and keep them backed up on tape, just in case someone wants to see them for compliance or audit reasons.
If you keep all your documents on your own server (or PC), then pretty soon you’ll run out of space.
- Keep the most essential documents on your PC, just in case.
- File the Final documents on the Document Management System.
- File the Archive documents on the Document Management System or move to a Backup server.
- Remove Old documents to tape.
Your success in managing SOPs in a combination of things. It’s about writing, of course. But, it’s also about the other activities that interact with the writing process, such as getting Management support, Reviewing the documents and Publishing them to the Internet/Intranet.
One of the paradoxes for me as a Procedures Writer is that the more I work in this field, the less I write. Most of my time is spent as a ‘Mother Hen’ watching my baby documents and make sure they do to the right place at the right time.
How do you manage procedures after they have been written? What do you do to make sure others use the right document and that the old versions get purged?