Version Control: Managing document revisions

When you are working on documents, version control (aka revision control) can be pretty important. I find it’s very helpful, particularly when you’re sending multiple drafts to multiple people, to label revisions so everyone knows they are looking at the latest and greatest version. Otherwise, if you just keep the filename the same and send it out again, it can become quite confusing.

While electronic tools are available to help manage version control for things like software development projects, I have an easy, free filenaming system that accomplishes the same thing and which you might find useful.

When I first create the document, I include all of the important information in the filename that I might need to identify/find it in the future.

1. ID Tag

The first part of the filename includes a designation that I use for easy identification. I might write grants to the same foundation for multiple clients, or generate similar documents for more than one organization, so tagging the file with a consistent identifier helps me to keep them all straight, particularly when things end up on my desktop. I like to use a 2-4 letter ID in all upper case: e.g., RR for the City of Round Rock.

You could also use a second ID tag to differentiate between similar, but different documents that belong to the same client, project, etc.

MC                for the City of Mid City

MC CHD       for documents pertaining to the Mid City commercial historic district

MC FHHD     for documents pertaining to the Mid City Frog Hill Historic District

2. Description

The second part of the filename describes the document and, in some cases, who it is intended for. For instance:

MC CHD Map of NR historic district.pdf

3. Date

I also include a date for easy reference. For projects like surveys, which are conducted infrequently, the year is sufficient. For grant applications, I include the month and year so that I can easily see when the grant was submitted. Anything mailed or published should be named with the mailing or publication date. Here are some examples:

MC 2012 Historic Resources Survey Map.pdf

MC Big County Fndn grant app March 2012.docx

MC CHD Letter to property owners 06.01.2012.docx

4. Revision Number

Version control is very important, and this is the system that I have come up with for managing revisions.

I add or update revision numbers only when I make a change AND I am releasing the document for review. If I make multiple rounds of edits (over the course of a week, for example) but have not released the document, all of those changes would be made under the same revision number.

Let’s use an example in which my original document (for the Very Small Town project) is named

VST Landmark report.docx

I have been working on this report for a while, but I use the original filename the whole time. After I send out the first draft for review and it comes back, I need make revisions. I want to keep an electronic copy of the original version, in case I need to refer back to it, but I need to know which is the original and which is the new version.

When I’m ready to make revisions, I “save as” and add “-rev1” to the end of the filename. For example:

VST Landmark report-rev1.docx

This is the name of the file that goes back out to my client the next time. If they send back more comments that require revision, or if I make additional changes after I have released this document, I update the version number to –rev2.

5. Reviewer’s Initials

You may go through quite a few revisions, and it is not anyone else’s job to manage version control – as long as you are maintaining the filenaming conventions, you will be able to reference changes at any point in the process, as needed.

If I ask people to send me feedback, sometimes they will rename the file entirely. If that happens, I keep the file that they returned to me as named by them, but I also create another copy of the file with the correct name and add their initials to the end of the filename, like so:

VST Landmark report-NP.docx
VST Landmark report-rev4-NP.docx

6. The Final Version

Once the document is final and has been published, I go back and add the word “final” to the filename of the last version.

VST Landmark report-rev4-final.docx

(Note: Don’t add the word “final” too early! Otherwise you can end up with multiple “final” versions as changes continue to be made.)

I don’t take out the revision number, because I still need that for my own reference, but I will also save a final version for the client that does not include a revision number. It’s a good idea to add/update the actual publication or mailing date at that time.

VST Landmark Report June 2012.docx

7. Wait a minute! How do you deal with all of those different versions? Doesn’t that turn into a mess?

I manage my files in folders, so (for example) all of the Landmark Report versions would be together. Visually, that’s easier for me to deal with. Eventually, I archive (but don’t delete) all by the final versions of things, to keep my files cleaned up and easy to find.

Building Systems Replacement/Maintenance Plan

Whether your facility is brand new, in the process of being renovated, or desperately in need of repair, you need a Building Reserves Fund and a Building Systems Replacement/Maintenance Plan.

The Kresge Foundation, which has spent many years and millions of dollars supporting facilities improvements for arts and cultural organizations, has a great explanation of Building Reserves Funds and why they’re so important.

Planning for your building’s maintenance needs, and ensuring that you have the money you need to fix things when they break or need ordinary maintenance, is the responsible approach to stewardship of our nation’s built heritage. But instead, many organizations — probably most organizations — put off those expenses for another day, hoping that, someday, the gift of an endowment will magically solve those long-term facility funding problems.

A better approach is to begin building a Building Reserves Fund now. No matter how modest it is to start, every dollar saved will help to build a safety net for the future.

To help you get started, I’ve provided this Building Maintenance-Systems Replacement Plan, which includes some of the major building expenses that you might face for the next 20 years. You can adjust this based on the age of your building and its systems, using the following (conservatively estimated) life expectancy of those systems or building components:

Annual maintenance. Every 1 year.
It’s better to start with a more conservative (higher) budget for annual maintenance and then adjust it down as needed, to ensure that you have sufficient funds. Don’t forget to include manufacturer-recommended service intervals for major components like elevators and HVAC systems!

Computer systems, including video/networked security systems. Every 5 years.
Computer technology changes so quickly that you will likely need to swap out all of your computer systems that often!

Paint/glaze exterior windows and doors, as well as any wooden siding, soffits, and eaves, if present. Every 7 years.
This interval is based on recommendations from paint manufacturers, but — as we all know — keeping exterior wood surfaces painted is the key to preventing rot. Be sure to include equipment rental costs if the contractor will need a man lift to reach surfaces above the second floor.

Replace exterior HVAC compressor units. Every 8 years.

Repaint interior surfaces, replace carpet and/or refinish wood floors. Every 10 years.
A fresh coat of paint and an updated color scheme doesn’t must brighten those interior spaces. Remember that  your facility is part of your brand, and the way you care for it speaks volumes about your organization. If your spaces are up-to-date, that tells people that your organization is, too!

Replace smoke/fire/security system. Every 10 years.

Replace interior HVAC air handlers, heating components, dust filters and dehumidification units. Every 12 years.

Replace roof. Every 20 years.
Yes, the whole thing! I know it’s a big expense. That’s why you have 20 years to save for it!

To complete the spreadsheet, start with the current cost of these items. You might have this in an Historic Structures Report or you can work with an architect to help you come up with today’s prices.

Once you have a list of current prices, you can calculate what you’ll need at the appropriate intervals, adjusting for inflation. For example, perhaps your security system would cost $10,000 to replace in 2011. You can find a number of Inflation Calculators like this one online and use one of those to figure that by 2021, you’ll need nearly $12,250 to replace it (assuming that the cost of the security system is stable).

After you’ve completed your spreadsheet, you’ll have the information that you need to start deciding you’re going to pay for this. And that’s a topic for another post!

What could you accomplish in 16 months?

When I was in graduate school, working toward my Master of Science in Historic Preservation, I started to meet and get to know people who were passionate about preserving our historic built environment. Some of them worked at state agencies or in city governments or non-profit organizations, and others were volunteers or just interested individuals. I also started getting phone calls and emails from regular Joes who were concerned about a specific historic building in their town or neighborhood and didn’t have a clue how to go about trying to save it. Then I looked at all of the preservation programs that are in place, and I realized that most of those programs focus on the buildings/resources … but not the people.

Because my professional background includes a decade in training and education, I know that helping people to become more effective in whatever it is that they do can generate a significant return on investment. I’ve also personally experienced the power of strategic planning – the real stuff, not just a workshop where a consultant helps you identify a laundry list of goals and then leaves you with a binder and no tools for reaching those goals. I’ve used those planning tools to reach my own personal and business goals, and I figured that I could help other people do the same thing.

That’s why I’ve focused my consulting practice on the people who own, manage, or advocate for historic resources – not the resources themselves. And to that end, I limit the firm’s work to three specific areas:

  • Building Knowledge. You have to know what you have, in order to make good decisions about what to do with it.
  • Building Organizational Capacity. This includes Defining Goals for long-term success; identifying Current States and Goal States in the areas of Facilities, Finance, People (including both board and staff) and Programs; and establishing a RoadMap to establish a path from where you are now to where you want to be in each of those areas.
  • Building Financial Strength. Too many non-profit organizations are forced to spend their time chasing money instead of working on their mission because they haven’t invested in creating multiple sources of income, developing donors, or establishing an endowment.

I believe that the best opportunity for my firm to make a positive change in the field of historic preservation is to find ways to help as many people as possible become more effective in these areas. To that end, I’m interested in you – whoever you are – and how McDoux can help you become more knowledgeable and capable. If you’re reading this, then you probably want to preserve something. So let’s work together to make that happen!

Think about what you’re hoping to accomplish. Whether it’s something big or something small, I’m sure that at least a portion of what you want to do can be completed by the end of next year. Are you willing to set a goal for yourself for December 31, 2011? Maybe you want to transition to a career in historic preservation and you know you’ll need to get more education in the field … by the end of next year, you could be completing your first semester of graduate school! Or perhaps you’re concerned about your downtown and you’d like to see a Main Street program there. In 16 months, you could have organized others with the same objective and completed the application to your state’s Main Street Program. In 16 months, you can complete an historic resources survey of your neighborhood – maybe even your town, if it’s small enough. Maybe you just want to commit to volunteering an average of three hours a week to your local historical society, and you’re having trouble finding time in your busy schedule. Or you want to complete a National Register nomination or a local landmark designation for your house. Or raise $10,000 for a Civil War battlefield educational program. Or organize a community photo day to help your local library create a local history collection.

No matter what you want to do, the next 16 months are going to go by whether you’re taking action or not. Why not set that goal, make a plan, and get started! McDoux Preservation has more than 350 friends on Facebook today. Imagine how much we could all accomplish if each of us just did one thing for historic preservation ….

If you have a goal, I commit to help you figure out how to make a plan to achieve it … provide support to help you along the way … and hopefully connect you with other people who are trying to do similar things. So let me know: What’s your goal? How can I help? Please feel free to post to Facebook, here in the blog comments, or contact me directly at Steph at McDoux.com.