What You Need To Know About The Hierarchy of Documents
This article is part three in a series on documentation. To start from the beginning, click here.
Document hierarchy sounds like something out of Game of Thrones, right? Well, you’re not far off. In part two of this series, we covered the different types of documents and the best practices for their application. Documents don’t exist in a bubble, however, and knowing how to navigate and understand the relationships between them is a necessary skill.
How are different types of documents related?
The key to a good document management schema is establishing which documents set policy (expectations for how business is conducted) as opposed to those documents that describe procedures (the exact steps to follow when executing a specific task). A well-written policy reflects the values and principles of the organization and is a static document, while a procedure is encouraged to evolve as processes are improved and tools change.
In some cases, especially if a company has invested in a comprehensive training program, effective policies may include a commitment for practices to be “relevant” to specific events that are then addressed in detail through training as opposed to changes to procedures. There is an essential balance required between documentation and training; it’s not that training replaces documentation, but that it complements it. That said, if a specific activity requires heavily-detailed and exact steps to be followed each and every time, it may be necessary to have documented procedures and comprehensive training both.
Understanding the relationship between documents is an essential prerequisite to ensuring that the appropriate breadth and depth of documents exist in your company. A key point to remember: while not everything needs to be written down in a formal policy or procedure, anything that you expect your team members to follow, understand, apply and comply with must be in order to ensure consistency of practice.
Building a document relationship tree
While a traditional relationship between documents is provided here for basis, the authors of this blog recognize that many companies are creating document relationship trees different than presented here. The relationship presented here is a best practice that has historically worked for companies of different sizes and structure across industries.
In this illustration we see a single policy statement. (Other common structures may have several policies grouped together in what we would call a “management plan.”) Under the statement falls procedures. There could be several, likely each longer than the policy itself, but there doesn’t have to be. If your procedure requires delicate or exact steps you would document them further, followed by any necessary forms. We want you to use this hierarchy map as a guideline. It’s more important that the hierarchy for your business fits your needs than looks exactly like the above layout.
Coming Up: Organizing Documents For Your Business
While these are likely the most common types of documents most small companies will need, a lot of companies opt to add additional types of documents, typically to serve very specific purposes. In part four of this series, we’ll look at the different types and how they may, or may not, be useful to you. Check it out here.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about the documentation process and how to implement it for your small business please contact us to learn more. There are many reasons for alternate approaches and Archimedes C&C would love to chat with you about the pros and cons of each.