Stop Partying Like It's 1999
If all of this smacks of old thinking and silly manual procedures it's because, well, that's exactly what it is.
One more modern approach is Google Docs, which provides a collaborative spreadsheet, drawing, and text-document system that supports distributed real-time evolution of documents. Particularly in the course of conference calls, Google Docs provide an easy-to-use, platform-independent, and free way to collaborate. The revision history allows inspection of at least a year's worth of versions, making it easy to see how the documents have evolved. The document can be reverted at any time to its previous state, in case changes need to be "backed out."
However, there isn't a way to rapidly document spot changes: There isn't a "visual diff" across versions, and I haven't found a way to export the revision history for use by analytical tools (although in theory it's possible using Google's v3 API feeds).
More importantly, Google Docs have their magical qualities only when viewed from within a Google account. For companies that need to control everything behind their own firewall or have other security concerns, the free Google Docs are off limits.
In these situations, we recommend you use a Wiki: It provides the shared documents, infinite revision history, and collaboration tools (such as "Talk" pages) that help distributed teams stay in sync even if they're in different time zones. With this collaborative power, however, come limitations: weak tabling features (feels like HTML hacking) and nothing in collaborative drawing.
Another relatively new tool is Chatter, which can be an effective way of collaborating within Salesforce.com. While it requires a lot of discipline to be effectively for engineering decisions (through the careful construction of Groups and hash-tag topics), it has the benefit of being free and supports versioning of attached documents.
What Doesn't Work
Three ideas for design collaboration it's time to give up on: email, recordings of design meetings, and paper. Let's just make that a Chinese New Year's resolution.
David Taber is the author of the new Prentice Hall book, "Salesforce.com Secrets of Success" and is the CEO of SalesLogistix, a certified Salesforce.com consultancy focused on business process improvement through use of CRM systems. SalesLogistix clients are in North America, Europe, Israel, and India, and David has over 25 years experience in high tech, including 10 years at the VP level or above.
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