PleaseTech blog

We aim to provide useful, pertinent and sometimes fun insights into the world of document collaboration and the workings of a technology company

The search for the guilty

Posted by David Cornwell on 29. September 2015 15:31

Founder/CEO of PleaseTech Ltd - collaborative document review and co-authoring for the enterprise.

The UK's The Times newspaper (28th September 2015) in an article on the VW emissions scandal, states: “Matthias Müller, the new VW chief, has made hunting down those directly responsible his priority.” It goes on to say about two senior executives ‘relieved of their posts’: “Both deny commissioning the controversial software or knowing about it.”

Matthias Müller’s search for the guilty will not be helped by the fact that the use of this software appears to have been going on for some time. It is also being reported that “Volkswagen was reportedly warned about rigging emissions tests on its vehicles” in 2007 and 2011.

It will, of course, be interesting to see what happens. Can VW survive? What will it cost them?

But, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with document review?

Well, the answer is that Matthias Müller’s search for the guilty would be helped if there is a comprehensive audit trail for all the reviews of documents associated with the software. We do not know whether this comprehensive audit trail exists, but I doubt it. I expect that there's a whole bunch of long forgotten emails which contain the data. Even now, I suspect, management within VW are searching their personal email databases preparing their ‘Pearl Harbor files’.

However, what I do know is that somewhere there will be specifications for the software (Functional, Design, Test, etc.) and some other documents associated with the process, and that these documents will have been reviewed. There may well be minutes of product management meetings. Also, the software itself would have been peer reviewed. There would also, presumably, be some form of output documentation (user manual, technical release notes, etc.) associated with the software. We do not know how the review of these documents took place, but we do know that it did. No one delivers a bit of software which is going into production in, reportedly, 11 million cars without detailed specifications, design, testing and the review of all those items.

Currently The Times is suggesting that Bosch, a VW subcontractor, provided the software. It matters not. What would help the new management at VW is a clear audit trail of all decisions. In this, the review process is critical as it’s where a lot of far reaching suggestions and decisions are made.

Maybe, and I stress I have no knowledge of this and am purely suggesting a plausible scenario, an innocent comment in a review of a discussion document on how to meet the emission level tests sparked the whole process. Who knows? However, an audit trail of the reviews would certainly help in the process of uncovering the truth.

PleaseReview provides an audit trail, tracking every comment and change including who made it and when. It also captures the reasons for accepting and rejecting changes, as well as who did so and supports advanced comment and change categorization. All the information I bet the new VW management team wished it had to hand!

An increasing number of companies are using PleaseReview in association with the software and other product development life cycle as it supports review of associated documentation including, in fact, the software itself.

With the increasing need for compliance and transparency, the availability of comprehensive audit trails are an important side benefit to the real savings obtained by using PleaseReview. As, perhaps, the sorry case of VW illustrates.

So, I leave you with our current review cartoon ………


The nightmare of 'tracked changes'

Posted by PleaseTech Guest on 27. June 2013 15:09

Our guest blogger is...

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...

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