Contact us
Thank you for your message, we'll come back to you shortly.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Home   >Collaboration 101

What is document version management?

March 27, 2024
What is Document Version Management? 
In external collaborations, document version management, aka document version control, is the practice of recording iterations of a document shared at specific stages of completion for review or revision by another party.

Virtually every external collaboration involves the exchange of documents. When the documents are co-authored by the collaborating parties (i.e., you and your external stakeholders) a method of tracking document iterations throughout a collaboration is required. This process is called versioning, version control, or version management. 

What are the main kinds of versions?

Remember the last time you worked with someone outside your organization on an agreement, article, or memorandum?  If you consider the various versions that were exchanged, they are one of two types:

  • Individual Party Versions: These are iterations of the document shared by either party for review and feedback such as the versions traded back and forth between parties that are progressively revised to incorporate feedback and requirements that arise throughout the collaboration.
  • Milestone Versions: These represent key stages of completion agreed upon by both parties, marking progress and serving as reference points. Milestone versions may be documented more formally than other versions. 

Document Version Management is a key part of external collaborations

Why should we care about versioning? 

Proper versioning is critical in external collaborations for several reasons: 

  • Ensures Everyone Has the Latest Version:  Versioning ensures all participants are referring to the most recent iteration of the document. This eliminates confusion and wasted effort.
  • Streamlines Collaboration: Participants can see which party made what changes and when, helping everyone stay on the same page and coordinate efforts. Versioning makes it faster and easier to identify changes, resolve conflicts, and improve the overall quality of the document.
  • Maintains Document Integrity: Versioning allows you to revert or refer to previous versions if necessary. This is helpful if errors are introduced or if previous content needs to be referenced.
  • Increases Accountability: Versioning creates a record of which party made what edits. This can be important for following how conflicts were addressed and resolved, and tracking down the source of errors. 

Depending on the industry, version history might be critical for regulatory/compliance reasons. 

  • Regulatory Compliance and Auditing: Essential in regulated industries, a detailed history of document versions support compliance efforts and audit processes, offering a transparent trace of a document's evolution.
  • Intellectual Property Protection: Versioning proves invaluable in collaborations involving sensitive or proprietary information. It provides a detailed account of the document's development and individual contributions, thus safeguarding intellectual property.

Version History vs. Versions

It’s important to note that version history and versions are different. Version history is an unfiltered log of every change and edit made to the document. It typically does not record the achievement of any specific progress point of the document. Version history is commonly provided in tools that allow for real-time coediting, like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. While the ability to track individual edits can often be valuable in internal situations, it can be troublesome and even risky in external collaborations. 

Risks of sharing version history in external collaboration:

  • Lost Progress: Reverting changes can erase edits representing points of mutual agreement between the parties. 
  • Sharing Sensitive Information: The ability of all participants to see every historical change can expose sensitive edits that were discarded or adjustments that weren’t meant to be viewed by your counterparty
  • Difficulty Locating Specific Changes: It’s a log of changes, so finding any material changes can be difficult. 

In contrast, versions typically represent a more finalized position at a particular stage. Sharing versions rather than history during external collaborations helps maintain professionalism, preventing your counterparty from inadvertently viewing unfinished or discarded ideas during drafting.

When is it appropriate to use version history, individual party versions, or milestone versions? It will depend on the nature of the document you’re collaborating on and any regulatory requirements in your industry. Below, we’ll describe each method of recording iterations of a collaborative document and in what situations they should and shouldn’t be used

When to use individual party versions, milestone versions, and version history in external collaborationst

Final Thoughts: Consider an External Collaboration Tool for Document Version Management

When we think about where, what, or how to manage document versions, we run into a problem.  The document editor you use (Word, Google Docs) typically manages the version history for your working document.  Whatever tools your counterparties choose to use will manage the version history of their working document.  As we pointed out above, those version histories shouldn’t be shared with your counterparty if there are concerns about the leakage of sensitive information or strategic intent. 

What this means is that the management of the individual party versions and milestone versions of the exchanged documents tends to be performed in an ad hoc way. In fact, one common approach is to rename the versions manually.

manual document version management is terrible

That’s how everyone ends up wasting time trying to figure out which “FINAL FINAL FINAL Draft” is the actual final draft, only to find out later (after revisions have begun) that it’s not the final version. Also, you can understand how confusing this becomes when there are multiple documents, each with their own version management issues.

The ability to provide document version management for what was exchanged between the parties is one big benefit of an external collaboration tool, such as TakeTurns.  These tools often automate the process of version management and provide a whole host of other features that support entire external collaboration, such as file sharing, document collection, and real-time communications and requests.  Finally, these tools help reduce confusion by keeping all the content of your collaboration in one place and offer robust security.


Recent articles