When Designing a Document Strategy, First Find Out Where You Are

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Have you been keeping up with this series of blog posts on designing a document strategy? If not, I recommend that you read the previous three posts. In this post, I’m going to cover the first overall step in designing a document strategy, which is the baseline assessment. As in the previous posts on document strategy, I will draw heavily on Kevin Craine’s book, Designing a Document Strategy.

Now here we are at Part 4. 

Why Perform a Baseline Assessment?

As its name suggests, a baseline assessment looks at where an organization currently stands as well as what it hopes to achieve down the road. The reasons for establishing a baseline assessment are just as valuable as designing the document strategy itself:

  • Become intimately familiar with your company’s needs and objectives. The more closely aligned the document strategy is with the company’s needs and objectives, the more likely you are to get support, sponsorship, and funding for the document strategy.
  • Avoid backtracking and additional work. When implementing the document strategy, you don’t want to risk wasting time and money because you missed something important or because you focused on something that wasn’t fundamentally important to your organization.
  • Provides a sense of direction. Besides making the strategy design process more manageable and measurable, you’re less likely to get bogged down in details and trivialities.

Avoiding Baseline Assessment “Analysis Paralysis”

On the subject of baseline assessments, even Craine admits, “[T]he thought of spending hour after hour in a conference room laboring over a drawn out assessment is enough to drive busy managers and overworked technicians down the street to the nearest Starbucks.”

One of the reasons that baseline assessments can be so painful and/or intimidating is that they can fall victim to analysis paralysis. This is the unfortunate side effect that sometimes occurs when a committee attempts to draw conclusions or make decisions. Although Craine does not have a grand solution to bypass analysis paralysis, he recommends that when working on the baseline assessment, accept that there may be details to work on later. This can help prevent you and others from getting hung up on secondary details and technical trivialities.

What to Include in the Baseline Assessment

This is the part where you wonder how to eat an elephant, but Craine makes the concept of a baseline assessment edible by dividing it into two main categories:

  • Business needs and pressures
  • Objectives and strategies

Business needs and pressures

In looking at your organization’s business needs and pressures, you’ll want to examine:

Hard numbers—Try to zero in on the numbers or statistics that measure your company’s performance. Look at the numbers included in operating budgets, expected growth targets, anticipated rates of return, containment of administrative costs, and so forth. Also review the figures in financial reports and performance projections.

Competitive pressures—Study marketplace competitors and how they challenge your company. Any plans in place to gain an advantage? Is your company responding with product development, market research, or advertising? Read over the annual report, meeting agendas, budget guidelines, or corporate planning guide. In particular, pay attention to your company’s strengths and weaknesses in regard to the competition. Craine also advises you to consider internal competitive pressures, such as those caused by restructuring, mergers, and acquisitions. Will those affect your document strategy efforts positively or negatively?

Operational pressures—In other words, how well does your company stand up to the stresses of everyday business? Think of things like material shortages, problems with logistics, or labor issues.

Constraints, requirements, and expectations—Your organization may need to heed the requirements set by government and regulatory agencies. Also consider contract, settlement, and agreement commitments. In addition, Craine points out that there may be societal and ethical expectations that must be met.

You’ll find a lot of this information by digging into your company’s internal and external literature, but you’ll also have to speak with managers and decision-makers to get the full picture.

Objectives and strategies

Your document strategy should benefit your company’s short-term and long-term objectives. (For these purposes, short-term objectives are to be met in one year or less, while long-term objectives take longer than one year.)

Long-term—Find out about your company’s goals in regard to return on investment, productivity, customer satisfaction, and so forth.

Short-term—You’ll need to discover whatever operational and functional strategies are in place (or in the works) that are intended to achieve certain aims.

The Result of All of This Digging and Questioning

In order to sell the document strategy to co-workers and management, you must be able to “speak the language of the business.” If you can unearth the information necessary to craft a baseline assessment, you will have become a native speaker of your company’s language.

The baseline assessment is an extremely important step in designing a document strategy. This blog post isn’t able to cover every detail, so if you’re getting serious about developing a document strategy, check out Craine’s book for more information.

Coming Up Next…

The next step in designing a document strategy closely examines its three most important aspects… the documents, technology, and people as they relate to your company.


Kevin Craine’s book, Designing a Document Strategy


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Related Reading

Pt 1 “Key Documents” Can Help Open the Door to a Company-Wide Strategy
Pt 2 One Way to Measure Your Company’s Success: How Well Does It Manage Documents?
Pt 3 Designing a Solid Document Strategy: Five Traits + Five Steps



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