If I Had My Document Way… Version Control

If I Had My Document Way

…all documents would be in a version controlled central location.

This is not about formatting, it’s about keeping track of all the versions of a document, especially one that is being edited by multiple people. Too much of the time, we rely on email and MS Word’s powerful-but-limited Track Changes feature to enable collaboration. Documents get emailed around, someone edits it, the changes are marked, it’s emailed onward, more copies are made, more emails are sent, who’s got the latest? I sent it yesterday, no that was the old one, well it’s got my edits in it, those were addressed in the new version, I haven’t seen that, I’ll email it to you, no just send me the link to the latest version on the server.

“No, we haven’t finished the document yet, so it’s not in version control. Once it’s approved, then we’ll upload it.”

True story.

The point is that these version control systems and products exist, Electronic Document Management Systems, and they manage this stuff very well. It’s what they’re designed to do. They manage the “churn” of many edits being made to a document by multiple people. They control access so that changes don’t conflict.

But they can be tricky to apply, or set up, and if there’s one thing that projects like to save money on, it’s engineering administration tools like EDMS’s.

“They’re expensive, people don’t know how to use them, they don’t want to learn, they say they’re engineers, not editors or software developers. We can just do it with email and Track Changes like always.”

…and deal with the consequences. Again and again. That’s how you end up with the story described above. Despite the tool being designed to deal with the “churn”, you deliberately avoid using it until the benefit has passed. You’ve spent the money on the tool, but because it’s not set up correctly, or people aren’t made to use it, it gets ignored, and the organization is loathe to make the effort next time.

digraph test {
“Management won’t spend” -> “Tool set up badly” -> “Hard to use”
“Management won’t spend” -> “Training not provided” -> “Hard to use”
“Hard to use” -> “People don’t use”
“Management won’t spend” -> “Not enforced” -> “People don’t use”
“Tool set up badly” -> “Don’t see benefit” -> “People don’t use”
“Training not provided” -> “Don’t see benefit” -> “Bad reputation” -> “Tool not used next time”
“Bad reputation” -> “Management wary” -> “Management won’t spend”
“Training not provided” -> “Not relevant to me” -> “People don’t use”

Kind of how the Tories treat the NHS: Little or no investment in the tool, poor results from the tool, blame the tool. We see this time and time again.

Take some time, a little bit of money and little bit of effort, set up the EDMS properly, train people to use it, enforce it, and it will solve so many problems. Unfortunately, the value and benefit may not appear until later in the project, or perhaps in a later project.