8 Tips for Improving the Document Review Process

Tips for improving the document review processA report called “The Document Jungle” draws from a survey of 300 knowledge workers and tells some uncomfortable truths about the quality of the document review processes that most of us rely on every day.

Basex’s survey reports that each worker produces 1 or 2 short documents per day and are called on to review around 3 to 5 documents per week. Some documents are not sent for review or sent to just one co-worker. The majority are circulated for review.

When it comes to circulating documents for review, 60% of the time they are sent as email attachments.

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The outcome may sound all too familiar. Comments come back and have to be manually collated by the editor; there is a high percentage of error as edits get missed, comments are overlooked or not returned on time.

Tellingly, 25% of the survey respondents say they deliberately leave colleagues off review lists because they know they will just slow down the review process.

Personal experience tells us that, in the rush to get a major design document ready for a review deadline, it isn't easy to focus on the big picture of why we wanted it reviewed in the first place.

"Speak now or forever hold your peace" isn't a very good design strategy, believe it or not.

What can you do to improve the speed and effectiveness of your review process?

8 tips for improving document reviews in your company:

1. Use an eDMS

Get an electronic Document Management System (eDMS) instead of using e-mail attachments. You have a very low probability of success in improving your document review process using an email-based solution.

2. Think before you add people

Before adding a person to your list, think if you really want them to comment, or if you’re just notifying them that the document is available. You should be able to separate reviewers from ‘people to be notified’ in your system to ensure you’re not wasting valuable time and resource.

3. Add comments

A good eDMS will have a comments field in which you can direct your reviewers to certain actions. Are you more concerned about technical accuracy in this issue than you are about editorial style? Reviewers need to know that. It may make sense to assign sections to individual reviewers - if so, make that explicit.

4. Set meaningful deadlines

If you really need the draft press release reviewed by the end of one working day, say so.

5. Notify reviewers

Your eDMS should send real time email notifications that documents are ready for review. Include URL links that enable reviewers to quickly and easily navigate to the document review pages in your DMS. It may help to encourage timely reviews if people can see that other reviewers are making progress on their review tasks. Your DMS should also send automated 'nagging' mails when deadlines are missed.

6. Agree a set of internal rules

Agree a set of rules applicable to your workgroup, department or (ideally) your company. If I reject your draft document and request changes, is that the same as if I accept your draft but leave a set of comments that I expect you to consider and include?

7. Ensure visibility of reviews

It's easier to read review history comments when displayed "in-line" by version and contributor threads. A good eDMS allows users to select a document version and read the threads of comments made on each.

8. Build accountability

Build accountability into the document review process. Make document readiness an explicit part of any new Product Gate Process or QA strategy. Remember, poor documents end up costing extra time and money. Worse, customers may get to read them.

Choose your eDMS wisely

Developing a document review process that is robust enough to make a difference to the quality of your output but flexible enough to support the way you want to work, isn’t easy. Too much process and the business can get dragged into a lot of unnecessary red-tape. Too little process, and you’re back at square one with a chaotic and arbitrary approach to document management.

But if you choose your eDMS wisely, you’ll have granular control over documentation that will improve the speed and quality of your review function, while generating the data that will help you optimise your process in the future.

Document Control for medical devices

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Paul Walsh

Written by Paul Walsh

Paul Walsh was one of the founders of Cognidox. After a period as an academic working in user experience (UX) research, Paul started a 25-year career in software development. He's worked for multinational telecom companies (Nortel), two $1B Cambridge companies (Ionica, Virata), and co-founded a couple of startup companies. His experience includes network management software, embedded software on silicon, enterprise software, and cloud computing.