P&P Policies and Procedures Consulting
P&P Policies and Procedures Consulting

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Factors to Consider in Tracking the Lifespan of Policies & Procedures Content

By Raymond E. Urgo

Situation, challenge, and question

My organization uses a document management system that allows me to assign an effective date to policies and procedures (P&P). However, if I substantially revise a P&P and change the effective date, I lose the effective date of the original P&P. My challenge is the best way to track the lifespan of a P&P—one that makes it easy to retrieve P&Ps that were effective during a previous specified period. What is the most common practice in tracking the creation of a P&P and its subsequent revisions—is it by date or other methods?

Answer in short

Tracking by date is typically the best method; however, there are different types of dates. Having previous versions archived, rather than active or discarded, may be the solution to your challenge. If tracking the lifespan of published P&P content is undeniably needed, here are five factors to consider in determining suitable practices for an organization’s unique situation: writing method, granularity, dates, rules, and technology.

Writing method

Determine the type of P&P writing method(s) being used in the content. For example, if the writing method adheres closely to the principles of structured writing, rather than traditional writing, there may be ways to optimize the investment in the structured content through different version control practices.

Granularity

Determine the granularity (or level) for which version control is needed and best suited in the content; for example, the document level (a manual or a subject-based document) or topic level (either within a document or stand-alone). Most organizations unconsciously place control only on the document level because they are unaware of other ways of preparing, publishing, and controlling content for tracking lifespan.
Note: Although least popular, topic-based authoring appears to be the wave of the future for P&P content.

Dates

Determine the types and formats of dates needed. Typical types associated with version control of P&P content are approved date, issued date, effective date, last revised date, last reviewed date, next review date, and expired date. Preferred formats vary internationally.

Rules

Determine and document what rules the organization needs for implementing and communicating its version control. Examples are rules defining usage of terms (such as “issued date”) and instances when

  • published content is being split, merged, and replaced
  • revising the wording of titles being tracked, and
  • content supersedes or is superseded by other content.

Technology

Determine whether the organization would benefit best from a document management software, a component content management software, or other technology. If the system or software is already in use and does not adequately meet the needs for version control, determine what workarounds could possibly be implemented.

Conclusion

Tracking the lifespan of P&P content is a necessity in some organizations. Because organizations prepare and publish P&P content in different ways and for different needs, the means for tracking the lifespan of content may also differ. There are at least five factors to consider for determining suitable practices for an organization seeking to track the lifespan of its P&P content.

For advice and assistance on tracking the lifespan of policy and procedure content suitable to your organization’s needs, contact Urgo & Associates.