Andrew Barnes, Independent Marketing Consultant
I'm not prone to nightmares, and normally I sleep quite well. But towards the end of last year I genuinely did wake in the middle of the night in a slight panic.
Over the years I've worked in a variety of different roles with many types of software companies. From rapidly growing UK companies with great products to global organizations with products in need of refresh, I've worked in some sort of marketing position.
Throughout that time one thing has been more or less constant: the need to create, share and review documents. Even now, as an independent consultant, I've always thought of myself as pretty adept at juggling documents to ultimately come out with a polished datasheet, press release, whitepaper or proposal as required. But for some reason this time it was different.
I had been co-ordinating the creation and approval of a new whitepaper for a company that will remain nameless. This involved taking input from a few different departments and working with a couple of agencies in different time zones.
There was nothing really out of the ordinary. A draft had been created. Like many companies there wasn't much of a process to follow. They relied on the distribution of the whitepaper by email and using tracked changes in Microsoft Word to evolve it.
I won't bore you with the details of the rainbow of colors I had to resolve in the document as the emails came back and people edited edits. I set about resolving the amendments and accepting comments where appropriate. By the time I'd finished I felt pretty relieved.
So why did I wake with a start? For some reason I suddenly realized that I'd inadvertently approved for external release a document that was still being modified by some fairly senior people. And the situation needed to be corrected pretty quickly.
At the 11th hour an executive had decided the document needed a particular twist and had started a new email thread distributing the original version. I'd been told this in passing, but it had slipped my mind and as a result the consolidation of some pretty critical amendments hadn't happened. All my hard work had been messed up.
So first thing the following morning I still had the same deadline to meet, and I had to work out to incorporate amendments to amendments, quickly research responses to new comments and resubmit for further approval across time-zones.
I didn't have the luxury of an audit trail to work out what had gone on. The lack of process had let me down. So I painstakingly had to go about comparing documents, tracking down emails to see who had done what and chasing one person who was adamant they needed to be involved, but couldn't be tracked down (and yes the pun was intended).
I got there in the end. The whitepaper was published and well received by the audience. So apart from some shredded nerves and extra work, no real harm was done.
Since then I've started doing some work for PleaseTech Ltd and have had my eyes opened to the value of a structured, controlled approach to document review.
I think it's time for me to stop juggling documents and drowning in the sea of tracked changes. If only I can persuade my clients of the right way to control the document review process...