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No, this is not a take-off on the old “how many engineers does it take to change a light bulb” but rather how do we determine how many Document Controllers it takes to staff a project. In some senses, this question does not have an empirical answer but it is common to see document control groups follow similar practices to Project Managers when they are trying to determine project resource requirements.

We may ask ourselves about the actual work a document controller does, apply some predetermined count of activities and make estimates of how long it will take to do each of them. From an oversimplified viewpoint, we can say that document controllers handle ‘documents’, perform edit and tracking actions upon them and do this all within the time allotted for the project. This is interesting because we often do not know how many documents will be received and generated within the project and, whether some, most or all of them will require a couple of minutes each or much more. The project ‘bookends’ we define as the start and end of the project are similar to the ends of an accordion with all of the project documents sitting in between… and expanding in count as we go.

When looking at what we need to control and manage documents in a project, we find several contracts or vendor orders for Engineering and Vendor deliverables. The Engineering document types can include Drawings, Specs, Data Sheets, Reference Docs, Certifications, Calibration Sheets, Client-provided Information, etc. Each of these may include multiple Discipline-related documents (e.g. Civil, Mechanical, Electrical, Process Flow Diagrams, Piping & Instrumentation Diagrams, Structural Information, etc. In addition to these, the Vendor Deliverables include documents we designate with standard VDR (Vendor Data Requirement) Codes known to Document Controllers as D01, C02, E11, etc.

As we look at the activities that define the work we do on these documents, we consider two main aspects of this work. The first centers about the processes we use to ensure the documents are intact and correct. This process involves having the majority of the documents reviewed by one or more people knowledgeable about the document content. The reviews include an Internal Discipline review, Client review & approval, as well as possible Tenders, Construction and Drawing reviews. A similar set of processes governs the work done to submit documents, return them to the vendor after checking, issuing them to the client and site/construction personnel if needed. The time estimates of the various activities for doing this work can vary by document type but is generally considered to be in the vicinity of 5 to 7 minutes per Engineering document and from 4 to 6 minutes for each Vendor document, assuming that each document is reviewed only once.

We can estimate the time “handling” the many Engineering documents to be about 10 to 12 minutes per document and perhaps 8 to 10 minutes for each Vendor document. This work often includes scanning, transmitting, filing, uploading to a document storage system, archiving, etc. From this information, we can calculate the total time required to process all of the documents. Knowing the number of effective hours a Document Controller works each week and the duration of the project, we can determine how many Document Controllers we need to complete a project.

Putting this into practice and making a few assumptions, let’s consider a 6-week project and that a Document Controller works 40 hours per week. Let’s also assume we have a total of 2,000 Engineering Docs that take an average of 16 minutes each to process plus about 500 Vendor Docs that take about 14 minutes each to process. This would mean we require 2.7 (let’s call it 3) Document Controllers and they would have to work at 90% efficiency. It is easy to see from this exercise that 2,500 documents can place a workload on people… if all goes well. Although we won’t drill into it here, there are better options to controlling documents than by purely manual means such as using word processors, spreadsheets and related applications alone. As a final comment, Vendor data (documents) do not all arrive at the same time so there will be times during the project where the Document Controllers may be pressed for time to complete their work. As well, slow times during the project such as when people are waiting for documents to be returned, can be used to further improve the processes, procedures and perform any necessary follow-up.

“Change”, for the sake of change, is not good but, when coupled with a system designed to take the manual processes out of a job, it can ensure we perform the necessary processes and practices with consistency across the board. This greatly improves the quality of the work and allows Document Controllers the time to exercise their skills for the overall benefit of the project, the client, vendors, and their own company.