I work in a production company as a design engineer. There is a culture in my company of not documenting things, there are few standards, barely any routines and no documentation system. There is a server space known simply as "the black hole" where everything is stored, finding something in there is more up to luck than anything else.

I served a few years in the air-force so I am familiar with mickey-mouse operations, after my tour I deviced a simple system based on the dewey decimal classification which I use to sort my files and organize the areas I am responsible for. I am at the same time building a simple wiki where I document my work, all reports and what not so if I am away or on vacation one of my colleagues can step in and help out if the need arises. My system is not perfect, but it provides means of cross-references, and finding individual files easily. They are sorted by type (Report, test-procedure, calculations etc.) and given a unique id-number. It works well in a group with limited understanding of databases.

Now the problem steams from a customer I am responsible for, they demand very stringent documentation, they are not satisfied by the explanation:

We have always done it like this, it works!

They require a level of documentation that is not readily present in the company. My superiors promises things that we are good at but we can't show it easily. Test reports, periodical checks etc. are written for someone who is familiar with the product and the documents require enormous amount of work to be presentable to a third party.

I have lifted this with my superiors on a number of occations pointing out the problems that will inevitably come from a lack of proper documentation.

It took me a week to find the documentation of one of the most critical operations in production. We have been doing it for years but no-one knew why, it wasn't until I needed to prove to my customer that we knew what we were doing that we could find the initial test results.

Don't get me wrong, I love working here. The people are great, my tasks intresting and exiting and we produce mean products. Career-wise I would have a hard time finding something better.

But, the lack of proper documentation and continuity is a serious problem. I will speak with my superiors again after the summer vacations. I have prepared a short slide presentation presenting the problem, how much it time is needed to find test results/etc and how the continuity is hurt (design engineer leaves/sick/etc). I have made rough cost estimations and I present them with my wiki, which isn't pretty but it is easy to navigate and find what you need.

What else should I keep in mind or prepare?

The question I would like answered is what kind considerations I should keep in mind when arguing for the need of an organized and maintainable company documentation standard/policy. It is as much why documentation should be kept as to how, now that I think of it.

We are still using blueprints from the early eighties, late seventies in our daily production, things that were drawn before I was born. Some of these are well documented, others are not, I am not looking forward to the revision of those blue prints.

  • It's great you have seen a problem, and the effects it causes. You have a big problem. The company has a big problem. Do you care enough to own it, manage it and make it better, if it means sacrificing your current job? Does your managment think that you're better off doing what you do? It's a tough call - making the presentation is one thing. Senior manages always get problems. What makes their lives easier is by offering a choice of solutions with pros and cons of each - including "DO NOTHING". If you can express your case in that way, you'll make your point.
    – user924272
    May 27, 2016 at 22:02
  • why does a simple search not work?
    – Kilisi
    May 28, 2016 at 7:40
  • Because a simple search implies that things are organized. A couple of decades, people coming and going and everyone using their own way of naming files, saving files. Some don't even bother to save it at all creates a quagmire of information. May 28, 2016 at 7:56

2 Answers 2


I see room for promotion if you actually took the time to organize the files and index them for future use. You're going to end up looking for these documents in the future, so why not start organizing it now?

You don't have just organize everything from beginning to end. Start an index or another wiki. As you find the documents you need, start adding them to the index, and you will be more organized over time.

Should you work for free? I don't think so. When that annual review comes up, you'll have more reasons to get a raise. If you see yourself at this company long term, definitely start an index on these documentation and create some if it's convenient.

From my own personal experience, I had documentation everywhere, and versions of these documents all scatters. Each time I had to fix or update a document, it would be organized for future reference. After about a year, pretty much everyone else I work with caught on and started helping me organize files, because they understand the importance of keeping documentation organized, and keeping future documentation in this format.

  • Could you provide an example of how you organize your files? My system works, but it is a little clumsy. Since most of my colleagues have little to no experience of databases it needs to be simple. May 27, 2016 at 22:07
  • For my case specifically, I started a Google Site. Everytime I had to dig up documentation, I would make a page for it and attach relavant files. As more related pages are created, I made subpages to keep them further organized. Example, product A, B, and C, then theres a subpage for each version, with the attachments. Moving pages and adding more with Google sites worked for me. And eventually, I granted access to coworkers amd they helped manage the rest.
    – Peter
    May 27, 2016 at 22:32

I think you're completely right to do this and sounds like you've prepared a great agreement for your case. I would prepare yourself for them telling you there isn't a budget for it, and that they aren't willing to pay you (or someone else) to make those changes. They may tell you it's a great idea, and that they'd rather you do it outside, or on the side of, your main role. Which is good for getting what you want done, but ultimately adds to your responsibilities and puts pressure on your juggling skills.

They might be thinking, it's always worked this way so why should we spend money on this now? That's a hard mindset to change and you might need to prepare yourself for the fact that they may not change it, unless it actually breaks the deliverables.

It sounds like this issue is affecting a customer and that may be enough to have them interested. Either way, stick to your guns, especially as you have analysis to back your argument up. Remind them that you are ultimately asking that this is put in place and you're not just going to run with the idea.

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