Who has version control?

Consultants work in teams. Consultants work in packs.

We are hired to work on messy problems which are often complex, ambiguous, political, and time-sensitive. Basically, it’s a lot of work that has to be done in a short(er) amount of time. So, it’s a team effort.

Version control = quality control

“Version control” is just what it sounds like. v1, v2, v3 . . . .final version. For those of us Gen X who grew up before Google Docs and Microsoft OneDrive, we were saving copies of our files like crazy. Of course you don’t want to lose the work you did, or have multiple versions of the same file.

As a junior consultant, one of the easiest ways to drive your manager is lose the version control. It’s the metaphorical equivalent to dog-sitting for your boss and losing their dog for a few hours; they will lose their mind.

Watch out

It’s like watching hockey with a puck getting passed around for person to person. It’s critical to know who is doing what. Communication is both the easiest and the hardest thing for a team to do. Humans are funny that way.

When it works, it is a beautiful thing

I was once on a team when we were putting together a demanding client proposal in a short time. I was based in the US, but co-created the document with an India-based team with amazing results. There was a continuous flow of writing, editing, reviewing and publishing. If that proposal was a machine, it would have been red hot, and probably would have overheated.

When it doesn’t work, it is painful

Earlier in my career, I had the opposite experience. As a newbie manager, I delegated work to my direct report — only to later find out that 1) I did a poor job explaining what I wanted, 2) even worse, I was unclear how we were divvying up the work. Net result: we simultaneously worked on section A, and no one worked on section B. Fail.

In a previous post, I argued that consultants are always be revising their documents. So what is the smartest way to co-create a document?

1. Agree on the goal

As a manager, spell it out. Make sure everyone knows what to do.

  • “Here’s an example of a previous deliverable we did.”
  • “As you know, this is the 2nd executive status report, therefore XYZ”
  • “After Timmy finishes the gross margin analysis tonight, we will make these 3 slides.”

2. Encourage clarifying questions

Get as many latent questions answered as early as possible. As a manager, you don’t want to be answering individual questions randomly at night, by email, last minute. Nope, get in front of it:

  • “Why don’t you repeat back to me your understanding of what we want done.”
  • “What questions do you have at this stage?”
  • “How far do you think you can get by Wednesday 2pm?”
  • “Do you know the first 3–4 steps of what to do?”
  • “How are you feeling about this assignment? Any concerns?”

3. Agree on the format, granularity

It’s better to clarify some of the formatting details up front. I know this seems trivial, but if you have 4–5 different workstreams — you don’t want people bringing back 5 different flavors of the same type of thing. It’s a formatting nightmare. Have a PowerPoint template that you all share (e.g., arial font, square bullets etc). Sketch out what will be on each page and how detailed it should be. Bring out an example from another project to “level-set” everyone on what it should look like, how it should read.

Think of it like building a railroad from California and New York. You will meet in Chicago, but the railroad width better be the same size or the railroad will not link up.

4. Divide and conquer

Piece the work out, and set up review cycles for junior people. Don’t want them going too far the wrong path. As a manager, the more MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) the works is partitioned, the less duplication there will be. Note: some of your workstreams will have inter-dependencies; as a manager, keep an eye out that you are not double-counting savings etc.

Agree on where to house the documents (shared drive, box.com, MS Teams etc) and the nomenclature. . .file name, date, time, status. There should be 0% confusion on who is working on what or who has control of a combined document.

5. Early-on, check-in, give feedback

Don’t micro-manage, yet, make sure the team is tracking. Drop-in, ask if they have any questions. Ask a few probing questions. Create a culture where it’s okay for people to show you work-in-progress. Think of yourself like an executive chef who is checking in on the different sous chefs; “taste the food” as you go.

6. One person does the final edits

In the final days and hours of the presentation, it’s a 1 person job. All the words, shapes, colors, font needs to be standardized and smoothed out. It’s massive accountability, and one person “brings it home.”

7. Trust

Underlying all this is trust. If you don’t trust the person you are working with, ignore everything above. It is just better to do all the work yourself. That is why consulting often becomes very tribal. It’s not because the partner doesn’t want to give you a chance, it’s just that she’d rather work with people she knows, trusts, and can flow with easily. She knows that Jimmy will have no issues with version control.

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Consultantsmind

Consultantsmind

Reformed management consultant who now teaches at business school. Business geek.