Version control is an often-overlooked aspect of overall document management, which has to do with revisions of each document that is being electronically stored and/or managed. If you had to stop and think about the way that the average person or company stores versions of any particular document, you would be right in thinking that there is often very little in the way of consistency and structure. Some prefer to rename each version using numbers or dates, while others don’t even bother to create a separate version at all – choosing instead to simply hit the save button and send back to whoever is next in the reviewing chain. Moving over to an automated system does of course have plenty of advantages for effective version control, and luckily, many good document management solutions have built-in features that manage versions too.
Best Practices in Version Control
If you’re still doing things the manual way, you can at least get the benefit of these best practices, to ensure that you avoid confusion and mayhem caused by disorganised version control.
1. Every single file and document should be version controlled.
It comes down to an ‘all or nothing’ approach – you can’t use this feature on some documents, and not on others. The point of controlling versions in the first place is to create more order and security, so failing to get into a routine will not do much good. This is another way that automated programs prove beneficial, as they help to easily streamline the process. Rather than manually setting labels and tracking document history, you can do things instead from a central dashboard. This way, you can easily manage various versions across projects, office procedures, policies, internal paperwork, contracts and whatever other documents are being worked on at any given time.
2. Stick to a logical structure and file naming procedure.
Going back to our earlier point about consistency in file naming, things will not be very orderly if there are no rules in place about how documents are labelled. Once again, an automated system helps hugely by doing all of this for you – if you are doing things manually however, agree on a logical numbered procedure and ensure that this is followed with every single document to prevent confusion. File storage will become much simpler, there will be less chance of earlier versions being accidentally accessed and everyone will be on the same page when editing, creating or modifying documents.
3. Update documents consistently, in relevant batches.
If for instance office protocols on new employees is due to be revised, make sure that all files relating to these protocols are revised at the same time. Revisions that belong in groups should be updated in groups rather than having a few lines changed at different stages of the revision process. By keeping things organised in this way, revision history will be less cluttered and changes can be tracked more easily. Of course, automated version control tools make this job a lot easier – even then you will need to be consistent and logical when updating batches of data.
4. Include helpful feedback and notes.
With many revision management tools, you have the ability to add comments when revisions have been made. These are very useful to let others know what has been changed and why it has been changed. For example, you might add a message to let senior management know that a certain employee’s contract is due for renewal. Or, a procedure may have been made outdated with the addition of a change in workflow processes. By keeping clear, easy to understand notes, everyone can stay on track of versions easily.
5. Remember to set notifications on revisions.
Once changes are made and comments have been added, those who have been granted access rights will need to be notified of the changes. This can be done through the system if you are using an automated software program, or via email if you are still taking a manual approach. Notifications don’t just inform of updates – they also encourage those involved in the document to read (and hopefully add their own) messages relating to the updates. A ‘best in class’ strategy for version control is important at the end of the day – to improve the overall quality of your document management and general procedures too.