A CEO’s Guide for Implementing the Best Document Version Control Strategy
A CEO’S GUIDE FOR IMPLEMENTING THE BEST DOCUMENT VERSION CONTROL STRATEGY
You’re losing money.
Nearly 75% of the time your team spends working on written information is wasted on searching and needlessly duplicating company documents. But it doesn’t end there.
Picture this: You sent the wrong document to a client and haven’t heard back from them, but you feel your credibility has already been damaged as it’s not the first time this has happened.
Sounds familiar? If not, you’re the lucky one. But how long can that streak last? You need a way of not leaving it to chance. And there is one.
Finding a clear-cut guide to version control online is nearly impossible. But the answer to your problem, simple and permanent, is right in front of you, here.
The Permanent Solution to Document Version Control (It’s not Just Automation)
First, let me assure you there is a permanent solution to version control. But it’s not automation; it’s multiplication.
Many know that, in this day and age, automating version control through software is a necessity. Most companies today wouldn’t be able to function properly without adequate automated document version control.
However, if you manage a company with more than 200 employees and as many as 20 people are working on the same document at the same time, automation could not only become insufficient, but also troublesome as well.
Wintress Odom, the owner of The Writers For Hire, explains: “Automation can be highly troublesome if you do it wrong because you can lock yourself into sign-offs that sound great on paper but, in reality, are laborious to get through, as you haven’t thought them through.”
But here comes the good news: You can achieve a permanent solution to document version control through a simple strategy. This strategy consists of multiplying three tools by three best practices.
The 3×3 Version Control Strategy
The 3 tools x 3 practices version control strategy is a great method to save time and money on document version control.
To get started, let’s take a look at the three tools you must use.
3 Tools to Automate and Reduce Work for Document Version Control
Document Management Systems
DMSs (Document Management Systems) are software, platforms, or websites that allow you to automate many aspects of document version control and have all your documents in one place.
Many DMSs come with traceability features. Traceability is a feature that creates a history of all edits and changes made to documents over time. This feature keeps track of the contributions made by various people so you can access them easily.
Yet DMSs work their best when paired with another great tool: Cloud File Storage Systems.
Cloud File Storage Systems
These systems allow you to save files and create an edit history for each in real time, detailing the changes made by every editor and letting you see who is looking at the file at the moment.
Most DMSs have a File Storage System integrated into them, so it’s a great opportunity to make the most out of what they have to offer. Creating and storing your files on the cloud is crucial because it guarantees that everyone is looking at the same file and information doesn’t get lost by human error.
When you use DMSs and Cloud Storage Systems, you establish an automated versioning system that could save you many hours and work resources. But that’s not the only thing you need to prevent chaos. You also need naming and filing conventions. Let’s see why.
Naming and Filing Conventions
One of the best ways to ensure document control is to use clear and consistent naming conventions. This will make it easy for everyone who accesses your files to understand and follow the correct procedures.
Why should you establish naming conventions for multiple document versions when software offers automated naming and even a full edit history inside just one document? Because automated tracking only works in the short term.
Odom explains: “Technology is going to be the ultimate answer to document version control. That being said, you have to spend some time thinking through your version control and understanding what you’re going to get out of it, rather than trying to plug your whole organization into what came with the software.”
Imagine your team was working on several proposals for SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) a few months back and you chose the one that fit your needs best. But now, time has passed, and your needs are different.
You remember that another proposal could be better, so you check the folders again. However, you notice that the files are barely comprehensible: They’re disorganized and the naming doesn’t make much sense to you anymore.
Things could have been easier if your company as a whole had established filing and naming conventions. For example:
Notice that files and names categorize year, proposals, versions, and even editors assigned to each document, which we’ll talk more about later. Using an easy-to-read format like this, you’ll always be able to pinpoint which file is which.
Now, when should you leave it to the automated versioning to record changes made to a document, and when should you take charge and create a separate and identifiable document?
A reliable rule of thumb would be to create a new document and add it to your filing and naming system each time there is a revision and leave versionsto the automated platform.
A version is an upgrade, something that is slightly different than the original, but its essence is the same. A revision is a remake or reimagination of a document; it has many more changes and, in some cases, the only thing in common with the prior document is the title.
So, if you know your team is about to make many crucial changes to your document, it would be wise to start a new revision and leave the prior one handy in case you need in the future.
Still, when you manage a large team, for everything to work harmoniously and not get out of hand, you’ll need to implement three essential practices into your workflow.
3 Practices to Make Your System Unbreakable
Most cloud-based document storage systems like Google Docs have a sharing option for each file and folder. If not managed carefully, there could be misunderstandings regarding who should see what, and more people could be editing and changing information than expected.
Because of this, you must practice careful restriction and use the “whoever has the link” option only when it’s strictly necessary. This also applies to offline systems, when you must establish who should see the document and specify it to all team members who receive it.
As you see, to be successful, your team needs to be aware of what to do and why, so training your team is very important. Let’s talk more about this.
Although it may not seem like it, you don’t need much work to accomplish this, just careful planning.
Why? Because everyone needs to be on the same page at all times if you want to leave no room for mistakes.
That’s why you need both clear rules and a way for everyone to have access to them at all times.
Your plan must have at least two parts: processes and contingency plans.
The process consists of how a document will be handled from conception to completion. The contingency plans detail how each party must react if there’s an unexpected situation, like the need to create a document that hasn’t been done before and doesn’t fit any current category.
Once you have a clear plan, you can share it with your team and all departments, as this will create harmony and will surely save you much time and resources.
Concurrent Editing and Branching
In many case scenarios, you could make document version control easier with concurrent editing. Concurrent editing is a feature offered by many cloud-based document management systems that enables several people to edit one document at the same time.
With each set of edits, the platform automatically creates a new version of the document, which you can access with a simple click. This feature prevents the issues that arise from trying to organize documents created for each new version instead of focusing on organizing revisions.
This is especially useful if the document goes through a standardized process with each member applying strict criteria.
For example, a user manual needs approval from the manufacturer and the technical writer. The manufacturer will check for accuracy, while the technical writer will work on readability.
These are specific and separate sets of criteria that will benefit from working together to create a polished document.
On the other hand, there are case scenarios where your document version control strategy would greatly benefit from an opposite practice: branching.
For example, imagine you’ve written an article summarizing the greatest achievements of your company to publish in several newspapers. You decide to ask the head of each department to review it, but because it’s so important, you want to make sure every detail is up to your standards.
If everyone is editing the article at once, you could lose track of how many versions are being created automatically, making revising and choosing versions harder, as you would waste time checking the many automated versions.
However, if you choose to edit the document one version at a time, you lose the opportunity to have the full team’s brainstorming ideas based on all the information, even risking yourself having to settle two opposing opinions only for the next one to offer ideas that make you want to go back to something you already settled before.
This is a scenario where branching could help. Branching is a version control practice applied when a document needs to be reviewed by several equally important professionals with potentially conflicting opinions.
To apply branching, you must create two or more copies of the same document, and then assign them to a single person or to a group of people for them to suggest or edit freely. Then, you would review each proposal and create a new document with the good sections or ideas you take from each one.
Branching enables team members to work on the same document concurrently but independently of one another. Each contributor works on a separate but identical document, known as a branch, which allows them to do the same project from distinct perspectives.
Although this practice is manual and there are no native features built into document management systems to automate it, some offer a “master” or “sub” document feature that allows you to build a single document out of several documents.
Team members are often flexible in deciding how to use branching, because not all documents need this. Documents that need several reviews on subjective matters from equal peers are among those most benefited by this practice.
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Technology can help with document version control, but you must also implement a clear strategy; it will not only increase productivity, but also save you much needed time and effort.
It’s the perfect return on investment, as dedicating a handful of time to planning and organizing your version control now will keep rewarding you and your organization for years to come.
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