Who has version control?

By | October 4, 2013

Version control is critical. This is a common question you hear in consulting life.  When you have a deadline approaching and people working on parts of the same document . . .

Watch out. It’s like watching hockey with a puck getting passed around for person to person. It’s critical to know who is doing what. Communication is both the easiest and the hardest thing for a team to do. Humans are funny that way.

When it works, it is a beautiful thing. I was once on a team when we were putting together a demanding client proposal in a short time. I was based in the US, but co-created the document with an India-based team with amazing results. There was a continuous flow of writing, editing, reviewing and publishing. If that proposal was a machine, it would have been red hot, and probably would have overheated.

When it doesn’t work,it is painful. Earlier in my career, I had the exact opposite experience.  As a newbie manager, I delegated work to my direct report – only to later find out that 1) I did a poor job explaining what I wanted, 2) even worse, I was unclear how we were divvying up the work. Net result: we simultaneously worked on section A, and no one worked on section B.  Fail.

In a previous post, I argued that consultants are always be revising their documents.  So what is the smartest way to co-create a document?

1. Agree on the goal of the document and what you are trying to achieve.

2. Frame out the storyline together. Get internal team buy-in on what the narrative is.  If it does not tell a story, it is not a presentation – it’s a pile of facts.

3. Agree on the format and level of granularity. Have a PowerPoint template that you all share (e.g., arial font, square bullets etc). Sketch out what will be on each page and how detailed it should be.  Bring out an example from another project to “level-set” everyone on what it should look like, how it should read.

4. Divide and conquer. Piece the work out, and set up review cycles for junior people. Don’t want them going too far the wrong path.

5. Combine the pieces, and the final 20% should be done by one person.  In the final days, hours of the presentation. . . 1 person needs to be accountable and take ownership. All the words, shapes, colors, font needs to be standardized and smoothed out. Sadly, it is a 1-person job.

Trust. Underlying all this is trust.  If you don’t trust the person you are working with, ignore everything above. It is just better to do all the work yourself.

Baton PassCreative commons: Flickr, tableatny

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2 thoughts on “Who has version control?

  1. Simon Teale

    Agree with this, and also recommend a strict editor (probably not a consultant) to maintain discipline, grammar and spelling and style continuity. Another modern tech hack is to do the document drafting using Google Documents whereby people can work on the same document/presentation/spreadsheet simultaneously (and see each others’ edits in read time).

    This can get the content up to a high enough standard for a single person to take the final version and formatting through to your step 5.

    1. consultantsmind Post author

      Agree with both of those points. On the topic of writing, I believe that only 1 out of 4 people actually write well. Most consultants – heck, most people – write poorly. Too verbose and unstructured. A good editor is saintly.


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