Document Retention Trends for Project Management Offices
BY: NELSON ORTIZ
Today’s business world is complex and dynamic. Management teams constantly face constant changes in requirements, in addition to budget constraints and demanding stakeholder expectations. Many projects have compliance constraints that delimit project scope and require the retention of project documentation for prospective audits that may occur, even years after project closure.
This whitepaper highlights the information obtained after an online research effort and peer-to-peer consultation with project management professionals in Puerto Rico.
A private client recently consulted us on our current knowledge of document retention trends for Project Management Offices (PMOs). In other words, what are the best practices in the required or suggested amount of years to maintain project records after project closure.
As a result of this consultation, we proceeded to research the topic and document our results.
What is document retention?
Document retention, or records management, is a systematic approach for organizing, planning and tracking documents during the course of the project execution.
The anonymous author at www.tutorialspoint.com, suggests the following concepts or guidelines:
A record system is a systematic process in which an organization determines the following considerations, activities and characteristics:
- The type of information that should be recorded.
- A process for recording data.
- Handling and collecting of records.
- The time period for retention and storage.
- Disposal or protecting records, which relate to external events.
- Elements in a record management system.
- Content analysis, which states or describes the record system.
- A file plan, which indicates the kind of record that is required for each project.
- A compliance requirement document, which will outline the IT procedures that everyone needs to follow. This will ensure that team members are fully compliant.
- A method, which collects out dated documents. These should be done across all record sources such as e-mails, file servers, etc.
- A method for auditing records.
- A system, which captures the record data.
- A system, which ensures monitoring and reporting in the way which records are being held.
Three Stages of Records
In the project record management process, there are three distinct stages. These stages have many other activities involved in order to complete and accomplish the objectives for each stage.
The stages are:
- The creation of records
- Maintenance of records
- Storage and retrieval of records
This refers to the underlying reason as to why the record is being created. This could be for a receipt or for an inventory control report or some other reason.
The primary objective of project record management is to determine the flow of the record handling once the record is created. When it comes to creating records, the following questions should be answered.
- Who will view the record?
- Who will be the final owner of the record?
- Who is responsible for storing the record?
Developing an operation to store the records refers to maintaining the records. The access levels to the records should be defined at this stage and should take all necessary steps in order to avoid the records getting into the wrong hands.
Proper compliance procedures and security measures need to be in place to avoid misusing of records.
Storing and Retrieval
Storing of records could refer to manual storage of documents as well as digital storage. Project managers need to ensure that the records are returned in the way it was borrowed. Maintaining records also refers to the amount of time that records can be maintained.
Some organizations may retain records up to six years whilst others less amount of years. If records are saved digitally, proper folders need to be created. Once created, the older documents need to be archived so that hard drive space is retained.
In the References section of this writing, we’ve included several of the researched sources.
The American Institute of Architects states: “The establishment of a record disposal date is ultimately a business decision. One factor to consider is the length of the statute of repose mandated by the state governing the project. It is prudent to keep project records for at least one year past the longest applicable statute of repose. Certain projects may have specific retention guidelines noted in the contract. Government projects may include detailed record-keeping obligations as well; various federal, state, and local agencies may have their own record-keeping guidelines. Your client may also set retention guidelines in your contract.”
With this insight, it is important to highlight the definition of a statute of repose. A statute of repose may impose a much stricter deadline than a statute of limitation. A statute of repose, in contrast to a statute of limitations, “is designed to bar actions after a specified period of time has run from the occurrence of some event other than the injury which gave rise to the claim.”
This jargon has a legal tone to the purpose of retaining documents, and not a business preference for retention, but can be used as a benchmark for business practices.
For more specific references to suggested retention periods, we can mention the following:
- Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC: Minimum 10 years
- National Society of Professional Engineers: Minimum 7 years
We’ve selected these two references due to the restrictive legal implications in the field of engineering.
To complement our research efforts, we’ve made some informal interviews with local project management professionals in Puerto Rico, and find important to highlight the following observations:
- Some organizations don’t have formal project management guidelines, hence no specification for project records retention periods.
- Participants belonging to formal PMOs structures do not recall the existence of specifications for project records retention periods.
- Of 3 specific PM SOPs reviewed, none have the existence of specifications for project records retention periods.
- Participants belonging to formal PMOs structures are in organizations where the PMO has an aging period of 5 years or less, and all project records are stored digitally, hence all documentation is still available.
To be specific in a recommendation for project records retention periods, we would suggest between 7 and 10 years, bearing in mind the following:
- Local, state or federal statutes
- Active record retention policies within the organization (digital and physical)
- Active record disposal policies within the organization (digital and physical)