Breaking down silos through effective documentation
The Ideal Documentation World versus the Real World
If there was an “ideal documentation world”, your organization’s documentation strategy would be defined and monitored according to your overall strategic initiatives. This means that Marketing, IT, Accounting, Operations, Project Management and Human Resources would be aligned in perfect docu-harmony.
Alas, the ideal world is only a myth, especially if you work within a big company. The ideal world is impossible because:
(1) Divisions, including geographic divisions, make perfect coordination impossible.
(2) The cost of perfect alignment is prohibitive.
(3) Departments move in different directions and at different speeds.
(4) Politics and fiefdoms often generate barriers for sharing information.
(5) Documentation, by nature, widely differs and is used for varying purposes.
Removing Documentation Silos: Examples
Even if the ideal world is next to impossible, organizations today have many ways of reducing the silos in their documentation to move closer to the ideal state.
Here are practical ways to make this move:
IT Projects and Operations
Problem: IT Projects, especially in large organizations, typically have rigid documentation controlled by the standards of the Project Management Office (PMO). Once the project is completed with the system going live, project teams are disbanded quickly, with consultants often leaving immediately to their next engagement. Project documentation may be locked in project folders and not transitioned to the operational teams that now need to operate the new system.
Solution: Consider documentation to support system users at the beginning of your project, not after the system is implemented. It is not enough to transition the documentation to the operational team at the end of the project: developing documentation to support users must be a continuous effort throughout the project with the operational stakeholders involved upfront.
Compliance Initiatives and Process Initiatives
Problem: Companies typically invest considerable money in compliance initiatives, such as Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) or International Organization for Standardization (ISO) projects. Companies run these projects with “being compliant” as their only goal. The supporting documentation is intended only for worst case scenarios in the event that the documentation requires auditing. In many cases, these valuable resources could be adding more value to the organization beyond simply reaching compliance.
Solution: Join or combine the efforts of your organization’s compliance or audit teams with the efforts of your process, business process improvement or optimization teams. Hire compliance or audit staff or consultants that have a good practical business sense and the ability to provide recommendations that are beyond reaching compliance and that add value to your company.
Interfaces and Data Flows
Problem: Companies typically have weak documentation when it comes to interfaces and data flows between systems or applications. The challenge is that the ownership of interfaces and data flows can be elusive, especially in large companies. Who is responsible? Is it IT? What about the application owner? It is common that different departments and teams document their own little piece of the company’s data flow structure – with no one having a complete picture of the overall flow of the company’s critical financial and operational data.
Solution: Departments need to work together to define the interfaces and data flows, especially between IT and Finance. There needs to be a specific project or person accountable for creating and maintaining this documentation. The initiative needs to be clearly communicated across stakeholder groups including application owners, vendor partners and members of IT, finance and audit.