Management of Forms and Policies and Procedures – Important? You can bet!

Management of Forms and Policies and Procedures: Important? Yes, definitely

Forms are critical to the operations of any organization, whether they are in paper or electronic format. Everyone uses forms in their daily lives, from internet surveys, shopping carts, feedback forms, or even an email to fill out in the contact section of many websites. And paper forms are by no means dead. Paper forms are still used to apply for driver’s licenses or complete your car registration or deposit or withdraw money from your checking or savings account. Physical forms are everywhere.

Business forms are management tools that help write, transmit, and report business information. There are two ways to view a form: printed and electronic. A printed form is a document containing instructions with repetitive information preprinted in a fixed position to save typing and referencing time. An electronic form is a document stored on an electronic memory device that is available on a computer monitor when needed. Electronic forms can be designed with fields that change in size as text is entered, drop-down menus, active buttons, and electronic forms can even be linked to a database that collects the information completed on the electronic form. However, remember that electronic forms can be exactly the same as printed forms, as well as a printed form saved in editable PDF formats, now possible with the right software.

Forms can reveal a lot about an organization

Forms can tell your customers a lot about your organization. For example, appearance alone may imply that the company is old-fashioned or forward-thinking. Ease of completion can mean the difference between renewing the business and the customer going elsewhere. In industries like insurance and banking, this can be a big issue. Since forms are often the lifeblood of an organization, a good forms management department can make all the difference in your company’s strategic direction, vision, and mission.

I remember seeing a visitor form at the corporate office of a major film company that was crudely created on a typewriter. The form projected a bad image of the company. If I were a customer of this great company, I would no doubt wonder why the company didn’t take the time to create a professional looking form that every potential customer would have to fill out when they entered the building.

Vital importance of forms management for policies and procedures

Forms management is equally important to the policy and procedure writer. In fact, in many companies, the policies and procedures department manages the forms administration department and/or the policy and procedures writer is also the forms administrator. This relationship is vitally important because most procedures contain references to forms in one way or another. In my experience, forms play an important role in policy and procedure processes. Note that there may also be forms processes, as well as policy and procedure processes. If the writer does a good job, then the process systems will be combined or integrated.

You cannot write policies and procedures without FIRST analyzing the forms system

For many years, I used to analyze and design the forms used in a process before interviewing the users of the policy and procedure system. In some cases, she would even order the forms before the analysis of policies and procedures is complete. This method proved invaluable to me because once the forms system had been broken down and simplified, the policy or procedure fell into place.

DO NOT make this big mistake!

The biggest mistake many policy and procedure writers make is to write the policy or procedure first and then ask the forms management department to tailor it to the content of the published policy or procedure document. This is a big mistake and certainly does not promote acceptance of the systems. The work of forms administrators and policy and procedure writers go hand in hand; there should be no exception to this relationship.

Adaptation of forms to a policy or procedure

I am a strong advocate of including a picture of the form and its instructions as an appendix to the policy or procedure. In the case of electronic forms, a link can be placed in the policy or procedure that opens in a new window with a sample of the form and/or the actual form to download or print.

Unfortunately, many policy and procedure writers know nothing about forms and simply refer to a form by name and number, or worse, just by name; and then let the reader find the referenced shape. I found this practice so wrong for various reasons. For example:

  1. The form will never be searched or used.
  2. The reader will ask a friend for the form and will most likely get an outdated form that could have been sitting in their friend’s desk or drawer for months, if not years.
  3. The form may be abbreviated with PR and the user may not be able to discern the font of the form. For example, it is the abbreviation PR, a purchase requirement or some kind of public relations document.

Arguments Against the Practice of Incorporating a Form into a Policy or Procedure

While I am a strong advocate of incorporating a form image into a policy or procedure, there are some arguments against this practice, none of which I agree with:

  1. READER SAYS: If I insert the image of the form into the policy or procedure, every time the form, policy or procedure changes, it will have to be reissued. While this may be a true statement, the policy and procedure writer should want to rewrite the policy or procedure because a form change also suggests a change to one or more processes that make up the heart of a policy or procedure document. .
  2. READER SAYS: Why should I embed the form image when I can reference the form in a form catalog? So if the form changed, the link would stay the same and you wouldn’t have to change the policy or procedure every time the form changed. This argument has two problems: (1) the same argument above applies that when a form changes, then the content of the policy or procedure must also change, and (2) I have found that it is rare for a company to have the resources to keep a catalog of forms the way it should be kept. So I would agree with this argument if the forms catalog is maintained regularly and if the person who maintains the catalog keeps in close contact with the policy and procedures writer such that any changes to the forms can be analyzed to determine if there is an effect on the current policies and procedures using that form.

Sources for Finding Help Understanding Forms

The most important association in the United States is the Business Forms Management Association, Seminars, conferences, workshops and books are offered to its members. I recommend you go to their website, give them a call, join and attend a conference. A lecture or two will be an eye opener for any policy and procedure writer. A whole new world will open before them.


The writer of policies and procedures should learn from this article and take charge of the forms administration department, if one exists. And if there is a department and politics gets in the way of taking over this function, then I suggest that the writer develop a good relationship with the forms administration department and start working together.

And if there is no forms department, go out and get the training to add this function to the policies and procedures department. The writer of policies and procedures must take charge and:

  1. Think about how to produce attractive and effective forms that enhance the image of the organization and that complement the policies and procedures that it affects and/or supports.
  2. Think about how you can work closely with the forms department and/or forms designers to ensure that the forms systems complement the policies and procedures system and vice versa.
  3. Think about how you can best serve the readers of the policies and procedures, and write effective policies and procedures that use effective forms.