written by: nataliajones•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 1/17/2011
The days of emailing different versions of the same document back and forth are over and the best practices of document collaboration listed in this article will help to make the transition seamless.
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Document Management Versus Document Collaboration
Document collaboration should not be confused with document management. Document management is concerned with the lifecycle of a particular document. It follows the document from its creation to its completion and governs the formats used, where it is stored and how it is updated. The main goal of document management is to protect the integrity of information by policing the creation of documents and ensuring that only one version (the correct one) exists on the system.
Document collaboration on the other hand is primarily concerned with sharing access to a single document so it can be viewed and edited by more than one person simultaneously. There are several acceptable ways to go about this so it is useful to look at the best practices of document collaboration for clarification.
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Best Practices of Document Collaboration
The following is a list of different ways that document collaboration may take place.
Semi-formal Collaboration. This occurs when several different co-authors edit the same document simultaneously from different locations. Each individual saves a final version when complete.
Formal Collaboration. Several authors edit simultaneously and save frequently so their input can be viewed by others.
Comment and Review. This occurs when one person remains in control of editing the document and presenting the final version, but this person solicits advice and input from other team members before making changes. The finished product is supposed to be a reflection of the input of all stakeholders.
Document Sets. Under this type of collaboration, each person is given a section of the document to edit. The final product is an amalgam of all the edited sections.
Each of the methods listed above has its advantages and one method may be better suited to a document type or work environment. Regardless of the method of collaboration used, there are a few best practices of document collaboration that should be adhered to for the best results and they are as follows:
Create an Atmosphere for Collaboration. If document collaboration is to work within an organization, its members must be comfortable with sharing information and control. Ownership of a document or process must give way for a mindset that is based on openness and sharing. One team member must not try to restrict access from others but there must be buy-in on the principles of teamwork in the document creation process.
Define Collaboration Parameters. This is especially important if document sharing is new to the work environment. Employees may be unable to differentiate when it is acceptable to allow others to share access and when it is not. There may be a need to restrict access to certain types of sensitive information or to prevent others from editing formalized documents, so the parameters of collaboration must be set beforehand.
Create Project or Document Templates. Creating templates for standard documents helps to reduce the occurrence of errors in formatting and also makes it easier for similar documents to be prepared down the road. The templates also eliminates any confusion over what the shared document should look like or which is the best layout because there is an established standard to refer to.
Have Clear Cut Approval or Review Processes. These should be undertaken at regular predetermined intervals. Including a review process giving someone the responsibility to check that the team working on the shared document is on the right track and can stop any errors before they are too far gone.
Provide Proper Collaboration Tools. Finally, the team members must be provided with the tools to make document sharing possible. Microsoft Sharepoint offers a wide range of functionality to make document collaboration both easy and productive.
These best practices of document collaboration can help any organization to maintain control while still opting for the freedom of the movement of information.