Many quality issues stem from version control problems. You can find blogs and sites that offer best practices for ensuring that you are always looking at the desired version of a file. There are tools designed for handling version control processes and nearly every cloud system has version control features. I’m sure you’ve tried many strategies and tools and yet you somehow still find yourself searching for the most recent version of a document. Why? It’s because version control is not just a process. It’s not a tool. It’s a mindset.
We all love threes and alliterations so I’ll describe the mindset using a 3C framework: commitment, consistency, and communication. Without these three elements, no policies, conventions, or collaboration tools will work – at least not for long.
Let’s take a closer look.
You cannot do version control halfway. Knowing where some files are, but not others won’t help you much. This may sound a bit dramatic, but you must commit to version control and all the legwork required to make it happen. We both know that you can get by without putting much effort into this. Making updates to the wrong version of a file is a survivable injury. As long as there’s that handy recent files list and a search feature in MS Outlook, you’ll probably find what you need – eventually. After all, committing to version control does require more work and time, but so does scavenging for files. Only you can decide if and when it’s worth it.
Once you do decide, as the document owner, your commitment level will influence others who are also working with the document to comply with the required procedures – or not. At the end of the day, you need to remain committed even when it seems like no one else cares. Most of this falls to you because while SMEs may feed the machine, you are its motor. Trust me and accept that. No matter how many rules you set, your SMEs may still ignore your “fancy” spreadsheets and collaboration tools and put all their feedback and screenshots in an email. It’s up to you to make sure that information gets into right place.
Committed? Good. Now, you need to develop and/or implement a process. I’ll soon write a post describing the many best practices you can use, but a simple Google search will unearth the five or so most popular strategies. Spoiler alert: you’ve tried most of them. Again, if the process is not applied consistently, you will not reap the benefits.
Your processes should include where documents will live during each stage of their lifecycles, from new to updated to final. Let’s explore this topic further. There are three factors to consider: storage, location, and naming convention (sorry, no alliteration this time).
We struggled with version control back when we only had one work computer so it’s little wonder that in the age of multiple computers, clouds, servers, and jump drives, that we still struggle with it. Document owners must determine where the document will live depending on what stage it’s in and who needs to access it. I am still amazed that for many organizations, there are still no collaborative workspaces that can be accessed by everyone. Only the training department can access the training department’s server. Sharepoint is only used for posting final versions, not drafting (despite the tool having that capability). Many of my clients either can’t access Google Drive and Dropbox or are forbidden from doing so. I understand the security risks, but until there’s answer, version control will be a challenge.
Document owners should expect to get versions coming from different places, but it’s up to you to ensure that they end up where they belong. Here’s a little unsolicited advice – request (require!) one consolidated version of SME feedback from the project lead. This will substantially reduce your version control problems.
Once you’ve picked a spot, you must develop a manageable file structure where groups of similar documents can live. You can name the folders by phase or function – what matters is that you actually use them. When I’m in a hurry, instead of downloading a file where it’s supposed to go, I’ll often download it my desktop. Then, I’ll just open the document and start cranking away – because I’m in a hurry. Two days later, I’ll forget that all of that happened as I’m again scavenging for the most recent version of that file. The Alpha folder was a where it was supposed to be, but fancy file structures are useless if they are not used. Here’s some more advice – do not allow the only versions of documents to sit in your email. Immediately download them to where they need to be. Again, this will reduce your version control problems – although I suspect you already knew that despite continuing to engage in this risky practice.
There are so many strategies I could recommend and most work if you use them consistently. How you name a file (i.e. CME_Storyboard_v1) and when you decide to change it (i.e. CME_Storyboard_v2) is heavily influenced by the systems you’re using and the number of people involved. Do you use version numbers to identify updated files? If so, what qualifies as a new version? Do you use dates? What happens if the file is changed several times during one day? How do you identify who made the change? Does it matter? Of course, if you have a true version control system, you shouldn’t have to rename the file at all because you can quickly retrieve previous versions. This is why they exist. But until you have a true version control system and a process to support it, I recommend that the document owner accept the responsibility of keeping up with naming conventions because SMEs will always rename their version to include their initials (adding their heretofore unknown middle initial for some reason) and the date no matter what you say. They just will. You can continue to punch the wind or you can work to ensure that if the people won’t adapt to your system, the files will.
This goes beyond communicating the process to those must play a role in it. It’s essential to maintain ongoing communication about the status of the process, how it’s working, and how it’s not. Many well-intentioned processes tend to disappear at some point during the life of a project once reality makes them inconvenient. Demonstrate your commitment to the process by continuing to talk about the processes and reinforce the needed behaviors. Perhaps your SMEs will eventually become a more influential part of the system as opposed to just spectators.
Here’s one last point. If version control is a big issue for you in your personal workflow, I’d encourage you to identify the true source of the problem and there could be an easy fix. For me, it was not tracking where I downloaded documents when I was in a hurry. Regardless of the issue, the solution is only as good as how consistently it’s applied.