Achieving a best practices forms management program is not easy. In most organizations, the forms management function is historically understaffed, undertrained and under-appreciated. The function is generally viewed as a cost center and, at best, a necessary but non-strategic function. In times of business stress, the function is usually one of the first areas to be downsized and outsourced. Predictably, this almost always results in less efficiency and higher costs. This problem is compounded by increased risk as well–marketing risk, regulatory risk and increased errors in data capture and display.

When engaged to help organizations develop a best practices forms management program, the first thing we generally do is conduct a current state analysis. This includes identifying all existing forms development activities, documenting their processes, calculating current costs and examining current results.

The next step is to compare current state to best practice principles and prepare a gap analysis. These gaps are prioritized based on cost and expected impact. From this analysis, a recommendations report is prepared, including a return on investment calculation for each recommendation. The recommendations report generally follows a prescribed approach but also includes specific gaps that have been identified. Our approach includes: 

  • Strategy

  • Structure

  • Staffing

  • Policies, processes and procedures

  • Forms technologies

  • Forms Control

  • Metrics and management reporting

As with any other initiative in the organization, your forms management program should begin with strategy. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road might take you there. Answer these questions: Is this to be an enterprise-wide program? What level of senior management support will you have? Does the forms management program include workflow and process management? What is your definition of a “form,” and what will be included in the program? How will you address privacy, security and access issues? What is the forms management’s mission, vision and objectives?

Needless to say, senior management support is critical. To get this support, a comprehensive business plan should be developed, with cooperation and support from critical departments, and presented to management. Once support is secured, senior management should issue a forms policy statement, which provides the overall authority for the rest of the strategy development.

After the strategy is in place, the next step is structure. This includes establishing where the forms management department will report, establishing a forms committee and establishing a system of forms coordinators and forms owners. Once the structure of your forms management program is set up, you will begin staffing, which includes both determining the specific positions needed as well as staffing levels required. Generally speaking, the following positions (or skills) are required:

  • Manager, Forms Management

  • Business Analyst

  • Forms Analyst

  • Forms Designer

  • Forms Technician

  • Systems Coordinator

In larger departments, senior positions can be established to work on more strategic and complex projects.

An important part of the forms management program involves its policies, processes and procedures. This includes forms project request processing and tracking, developing and maintaining a program manual and style guide and a variety of procedures for implementing the forms development workflow.

After the program’s strategy has been established, it is vital to carefully select the forms technology that will be utilized. Too often, forms management is simply told what technology to use based on what the organization may have available. Generally, such software is not ideal for forms development. The software to be employed should be specific to forms development and deployment. What may be perceived as less work and support requirements for IT usually means more work and less efficiency in forms management.

Forms-related technology may include:

  • Forms database

  • Forms design software

  • Forms mapping software

  • Forms deployment (catalog or portal) software

  • Forms intranet page

  • Process mapping software

  • Project management software

  • HTML knowledge

  • JavaScript or other scripting knowledge

  • Understanding of XML

Within the best practices forms management program, it is important to note that the forms control function provides most of the behind-the-scenes support and can include:

  • Form number assignment

  • Form title assignment

  • Form file maintenance

  • Project tracking

  • Forms database data entry

  • Management of routine projects

  • Beta testing support

  • Program Manual and Style Guide maintenance

  • Running queries and preparing reports

  • Project close-out

  • Obsolescence management

Lastly, our approach for a successful program addresses metrics and management reporting. Metrics tracking is, in itself, a complex function. Starting with the basic premise that “you cannot manage that which you do not measure,” the forms database must provide a place to store a lot of data about each form and each form project. Such data is compiled regularly into the kinds of information required by each level of management. In a best practices program, we recommend that reporting be done as follows:

  • Senior management: annually, focusing on net contribution to the organization and strategic projects completed

  • Mid-management: quarterly, focusing on resource utilization, staffing levels and service levels

  • First-level management: monthly, focusing on workload, number of projects active by type and number of projects completed

Clearly, forms management is a complex function that has the potential to positively impact process efficiency, reduce overall costs, improve profitability or contribute to the agency mission and help attain high customer service levels.

All organizations have a forms management function, whether or not it is formalized. Forms don’t just appear, become available and work well. Absent a formal development function, the forms development process is diffused throughout the organization and efficiency surely suffers as costs rise.

is president of Essociates Group, a firm that provides forms training and consulting services. Mr. Killam has more than 30 years experience in the forms industry, including forms management, workflow analysis and electronic forms development and has dual industry certifications. He will be speaking at the BFMA Annual Conference, co-located with the DOCUMENT Strategy Forum, on April 29 in Greenwich, CT. Contact Mr. Killam at