Designing and Implementing a Document Control Number System

While most mature organizations already have a well documented process for creating, approval and numbering of documents, not all do. So what do you do, when you come across one, where you a making the process. The first question, you might come across is why, do you need these documents?

Those policies and procedures for your organization help your employees have access to the resources they need to do their jobs effectively and repeatable. If each of you work departments or units have have policies and procedures, implementing a document control numbering system that will make it easier to keep track of and find these individual policies. Also if done correctly it’ll let you reference them, without needing to look at a policy key to reference them.

Consider a user-friendly Document Control Numbering System by Function

In your business you have multiple departments, separating policies and procedures by department is a user-friendly way to organize them. However you decided to number them, make sure that it’s something that everyone can easily remember. There are two popular ways of accomplishing this, that I’ve seen used in many companies.

  1. List all of your departments in Alphabetical order and then assign them each a number. For example, this way you might have your accounting department as number 1, so all accounting policy, procedures and standards start with a 1, where Sales might have a 6 and IT would have a 4. These numbers will change depending on how big or small or organizational chart is. The one downside to this, if you organization is growing and adding new teams, you either loose the alphabetical numbering order, or you have to redo all the numbers, which can lead to confusion.
  2. You can also institute an alphabetic (or alpha-numeric) numbering system, instead of just using numbers for departments like the other way. Using alphabets can help them identify the department more quickly. An example of this type would be labeling all policies from IT start with ‘IT’ or all policies from Human Resources start with ‘HR’. I recommend that if go down this path, you keep all the abbreviations the same length, but that’s a personal preference.

The Type of Document

Once we identify how you will number your policies by department, then it’s time to determine , next is typing calling out the type. businesses that have many different kinds of documents, like policies procedures,standards and guidance, so identifying what kind of document by placing it in the document control numbering system can simplify the process for users. In this example, all procedures can be identified with SOP or PROC, or Standards can be STD and all policies can be identified with POL.

This is a totally optional step, that a lot of companies don’t use, but I think it does make it easier for an end user for the end user to find exactly what they are looking for. It means, if you store them on a file share, they can sort the policies, procedure and so forth easily.

Actual Numbering

Now, we’ll number each individual policy within the departments. For example, if the Human Resources department has 10 policies, you can number them like IT POL 3, IT POL 4, IT POL 5 and so on. Some people may create sub policies, like IT POL 4.1, if it’s a separate policy that ties into the main one.

Follow Practices

The main point that you need to remember here, is making it easy for your users to find and follow the policies, so keep it simple. I have been guilty in the past of over engineering policies, procedures and after I designed a bunch, I quickly realized it wasn’t easy for anyone to follow. I added some weird tags like internal policies and external policies into the naming scheme. I then had to have a self realization, that I didn’t consider how I failed to make the document control numbering system intuitive, so my staff and users could easily identify what kind of document they are looking at without having to use a reference key, and that was a bad numbering system.

Make sure once you settle on one you communicate your document control numbering system to all employees before or at minimum once you implement it. Let them know where your policies and procedures can all be found and make it easy for them to get to, searching for them isn’t ideal. Also I recommend you add a table of contents or index so everyone can easily locate a specific policy.

Document Control Numbering Discussion

I talked a lot about different methodologies for numbering your documents, but there is a great little forum, that I saw when first looking at this question a few years ago, in which a bunch of people where discussing the best way to do it. The forum discussion Any suggestions on a document control numbering system? It’s a dated post now, but that doesn’t mean the information wont be helpful, to see how others discuss their document control number system.

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