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Project Records Part III

Trudy Robinson - Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The third part of records management in projects is about those who use it.  You can have the best structure in place, but if it's not used properly there is absolutely no point.  You won't find what you need when you need it - whether it is as serious as battling a contractual issue (or whatever) in court years later, or as simple as having the transparency in place when you are audited or having the relevant information for a FOI application.

So, it must come from the top.  Agreement that there will be a centralised structure.  Agreement over who will have read, and who will have write access.  Agreement what will be saved where and who is responsible.

Once in place, you must drive the message home with team members.  No matter if a project manager is managing multiple projects - they need to save their sent and received communications into different directories under each project (not within their own comms folder/s in Outlook).  They need to save reports within the relevant project's directory structure, they need to save schedules by date again under each project.  Get over it, cope.  Build a bridge and get on it.  If they don't like it, get a bigger hammer.

One of the biggest problems now is email.  It is used as a form of informal communication but with very formal consequences.  If a team member sends out an email to a stakeholder during a project which promises something, then they leave - unless that email is recorded in the central communication directory - that promise may have you in court with no idea of what is coming.  You must you must you must drive this home.  Even if you never end up in court, any contractual disputes, affirmation of decisions made, clarification of why something has occured, who decided what when, or audit reference to ensure there is transparency and governance around a project/programme - this is why it's needed.  It's a bit like insurance - if you wait until you need it, it's too late.

So, encouarge team members to include themselves on distribution lists so when they receive their own emails that they've sent to a group, it will remind them to drag it out of their mailbox into the relevant communications directory.  Prompt them when you're copied on communications to check that they've saved it where necessary. 

Check where they're saving draft documents.  NOT in their personal directory - always in their project directory.  I can't emphasise it enough - if most organisations managed the HR element of records management, the big software companies who tout records management software wouldn't have a saleable product.

Check that team members use links to the centralised structure rather than attachments to an email.  This not only means the right file is in the correct place before distribution, it also reinforces the stakeholders who follow the link to the project/programme area.  Of course if a stakeholder is external to an organisation they would require an attachment as they wouldn't be able to follow the link.

Include records management in your team member KPIs.  Don't mention it then forget about it.  Make it an every day, every step of every process occurrence.

Drive it home until you can rely upon it.

When it's in place, your records management strategy becomes a reliable tool.  And I promise you - it will save you pain.

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