Articles / Feng Shui your stale
by Amanda Reid-Young
When I started working in technical
documentation, I was always pleasantly surprised to encounter a client
organisation that actually had existing documentation. This showed (I
believed) an appreciation of the value of documenting corporate and system
knowledge and made it easier to develop documents to be added to a library
Attitudes to documentation and
information have shifted in recent years, however. Documentation is
routinely produced for compliance purposes, for quality management, to
record the knowledge of a shifting workforce. Many of the corporations I
consult to now have arrangements whereby many individuals can publish to
their intranets, creating a proliferation of information online. This in
turn has produced a surge in the condition I shall call “information
Documentation is like anything else you
accumulate in life: it needs regular springcleaning, with a reassessment and
a decision whether to keep it, refurbish it or throw it away. In Feng Shui,
too much clutter will block the energy flow in your home or office. In the
same way, excessive documentation in the information space of an
organisation is a block to the information (knowledge energy) flowing in the
right directions. And it will have parallel negative impacts on the
organisation’s wisdom, creativity, relationships and prosperity.
Information clutter arises when
multiple people in an organisation are producing documentation, either over
time or simultaneously but in different departments, without coordination.
Members of staff create personal manuals that document their workflows, the
whereabouts of their files, how to carry out specific tasks in their
systems. IT develop help screens to provide field level information about
systems. Managers produce policies and guidelines for carrying out regular
tasks. Trainers write training workbooks that include specific procedures
and directives for using company resources. Human Resources write job
descriptions that outline the tasks carried out by individuals. Then a new
policy is developed. A project is initiated to review the processes affected
by the policy and streamline the workflow. The new procedures are written
and added to the documentation heap – or a number of heaps in different
areas of the enterprise.
So how do you keep your documentation
under control? Here are eight Feng Shui principles that can help you to
clear the clutter and create an environment that clarifies and enhances the
tasks and relationships of the workplace.
1. Identify the problem
Your business units or departments are
like the rooms in a house. Where is the information clutter accumulating?
The intranet may be full of documents that haven’t been revised. New
software releases have been documented in small supplementary documents,
instead of updating the core user guide. Different sites have multiple
versions of procedures. Make a
list of the issues.
Recognise the impact on your business
Having named the problem areas,
consider what impact they are having on your organisation. If policies and
procedures are not easy to locate, is the organisation non-compliant? Is the
morale and efficiency of key personnel undermined? Are users failing to
exploit the full (expensive) functionality of the core systems? Identify the
priority issue that you want to shift and start there.
You may contract us at this point to
help you to tackle the problem. The following principles are ones that we
will always apply in reviewing your information environment.
3. Look at what’s already in
Review all the documentation you
already have. Is it inaccurate, out-of-date, irrelevant, repetitive, too
obscure or just inaccessible? See what is worth keeping; you may be able to
rearrange it a bit and make sure that those who need to can see it. There
will also be other areas or people affected by the issue. They probably also
have documentation that should be consulted and reviewed, or integrated with
any new material. Make sure they are “in the loop” as your project
progresses, or they may duplicate some of the work you are doing.
4. Consider throwing out the
Old documentation can have strong
negative connotations – what we might call “ancestor energy”. It
reflects old work practices and technologies and inhibits workers from
adopting more effective processes. Knowing that one area is inaccurate
undermines the credibility of the whole package. When documentation is
seriously out-of-date it is usually better to throw it out and start anew
rather than review and amend it yet again. If the same information is
repeated in more than one place, decide which one you want to make the
primary source and get rid of the others.
5. Only keep the things you use
Give workers procedures and guidelines
for the jobs they actually carry out every day, rather than policies or
instructions for using equipment devoid of context. Try not to burden
everyone with 300-page reference manuals when 50 task-oriented pages will
meet most of their needs.
6. Make sure information energy
can flow freely around the organisation
Deliver your documentation in the
appropriate media for its audiences and in the places where they need to
find it. If you are using an intranet as a repository for a lot of
information, spend effort on making it logical and easily navigable so that
people can find what they need in their workspace. Create a documentation
structure that reflects the shape of the business you want to have.
7. Be ceremonious
Launch new documentation with ceremony
so that everyone knows it is there.
8. Keep your documentation
clean and up-to-date
Clutter has a habit of creeping back in
to cupboards, buildings, bookshelves and intranets. It is essential to keep
documentation relevant and fresh for its audience by regularly reviewing it.
Make sure you have processes in place to review your documents in response
to new regulations, system updates and policy changes. Once its relevance
lapses, employees’ confidence in it will rapidly wane and a full review
becomes an expensive and time-consuming stumbling block to communication of
Looking on documentation as a
flow of knowledge energy, rather than as a static resource, can provide you
with insights into how it affects all aspects of your enterprise.
Communicating appropriate knowledge to your workforce and customers
can invigorate internal and external relationships, enhance the “smart
working” of the organisation and improve efficiency and profitability.
With all those aspects working for you, re-orienting the Accounts department
in the prosperity sector of the bagua
may just be gilding the lily.
article arose from reflections triggered by Karen Kingston’s book “Clear
your Clutter with Feng Shui” published by Judy Piatkus (Publishers)