Why you need to be a (version) control freak

Like many office workers I produce a lot of documents, from plans and reports, to memos and policies. For many years, I gave little thought to how I saved the documents and how I identified one version from another. I’d normally slap a ‘draft’ watermark on it, but that was as far as it went.

In a corporate environment however, where many people provide input to the content and multiple revisions are made over the course of days or even weeks, a lack of version control can make it difficult to know which version of the document is up-to-date or approved.

Most of the time this is just annoying and time consuming but sometimes it can lead to serious consequences. Just imagine the chaos that can follow if the incorrect version of a key policy is assumed to be final and approved!

It makes me feel stressed just thinking about it.

A good version control system will enable you to distinguish between draft documents and approved documents, and provides an audit trail for the revision and update of work. It takes time, and if I’m honest often a bit of nagging, to make sure all team members follow the guidance but it is absolutely worth it.

How to be a version control freak

  • Create and file the document in line with good practice and naming conventions and include the version number in the file name.
  • Version numbers start at 0_1 for the first draft, 0_2 for second draft, 0_3 for the third and so on.
  • The final, approved document is version number 1.
  • If the final document is revised, the first revised draft should be numbered 1_1, the second revised draft 1_2 and so on.
  • The final revised and approved document is saved as 2_0.
  • In the header or footer add the following: author, filename, page number, version number and date created or revised.
  • Add in a watermark with the word ‘draft’ across each page.
  • Don’t over-write documents. Save each revision as a new file. You can always move old versions into an archive file for safe keeping.
  • Include a version control table that is updated each time a change is made to the document. Make sure the table includes: the version number, author, purpose/change and the date the change was made.
  • Make sure that everyone who is working on the document is aware of the version control system and check that it is being followed.