Tracking Changes – Nuts and Bolts

Facebook postSomeone sent me a Word document yesterday without changes tracked. Word’s “Compare documents” feature would have been useful if the original doc we were working on had been in Word, but in this case, the text had been copy-pasted from a web page, changes had been made, and then the text had been sent back to me.

If the person requesting revisions had turned on “Track Changes,” I would have been able to quickly spot the three or four changes they had requested and then edit the HTML document (which had tons of time-consuming formatting added to the text). Without the changes tracked, I was left with two unpalatable alternatives:

  • Read the text of both documents closely and change the HTML document to match the text that had been supplied. (This method risks that I’d miss something and that the person requesting revisions wouldn’t be proofreading the document closely, because he assumed that he had given me everything “digitally.”)
  • Take the new Word document and reapply the formatting to the text. (This method risks errors in formatting).

Either choice, of course, caused me to take extra time on what should have been a simple job. This led to me posting a short plea on this blog yesterday … worth reading because of the contrast between the title and the content. This blog is fairly new and doesn’t have many folks commenting on it yet (I’m working on changing this by attracting a bigger audience!) but it was enlightening to see what people said on my Facebook page — it turns out that the nuts and bolts of tracking changes are not well understood. Here are four quick tips for tweaking your collaborative workflow and making your life less frustrating.

  1. When you send out a document for revision, send it in Microsoft Word (or one of the free alternatives like Open Office) and remind your team members to turn on “track changes.” If you’re dealing with people who you suspect don’t know how to track changes, tell them how to do so.
  2. If you’re using Google Docs, don’t despair – in 2010 the Google team added a “track changes” feature — further reducing the need to ever use Word.
  3. If you’ve already taken your document to the next step, and the text has become part of a web site, an InDesign document, a Flash movie, or anything else where your team members might not have access to the software, try to force them to edit the original text and leave track changes on. This way,¬† at least you can quickly see the changes you must make to the new document.
  4. If you are accepting changes as part of Step 3, make sure you share the costs of making these changes with the team! This means that if you are a freelancer, you would have a contract in place that specifies additional charges for making revisions outside of a well-defined content cycle. If you’re part of an in-house workgroup, you should make sure that the team understands that the extra revisions have cost you extra time which must come out of somewhere. Don’t complain; just calmly state the impact on your schedule, including other projects that may get delayed, and let the team, or the supervisor, know how they can avoid this next time through.

If you follow these four suggestions and educate people you work with to collaborate with you in a thoughtful way, you’ll be more productive.

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Tebow – The Ultimate Crossover

Tim Tebow at Jets press conference, filtered with PhotoshopI never cared about football before a few months ago. Yet I am avidly following the drama of Tim Tebow. I have been deeply touched when he thanks our Lord and Savior and his parents after every victory, loss, or milestone. I’ve watched dozens of YouTube videos of people doing the “Tebow.” I’ve sung “Tebow” to the tune of the Munchkins song from the Wizard of Oz. I howled with laughter watching the Saturday Night Live spoof of him. I kept my fingers crossed for him while they were talking about Peyton Manning’s being hired by the Denver Broncos. He didn’t disappoint me at yesterday’s press conference — talked about his friendship with Jets QB Sanchez. A good Christian is a good sport, no?

This guy is like the ultimate crossover — bringing people who never cared about sports before to the NFL channel, and bringing football fans into the arms of God.

Another Charlene-like question…What can we learn from him as marketers?

The Bird Has The Right Song

The trees are the right heightI don’t know what kind of bird it is, but I know it when I hear it. The complicated, eight-syllable melody blanketed the springs and summers of childhood, seeping through the leaves of the katsura tree just outside the bedroom window intermittently from dawn to dusk, where it blended with crickets. Now my son hears it, although not quite as frequently because we live in a small city with a higher ratio of people to birds.

I lived for a year in coal country and didn’t think about this birdsong once. But when I returned to New England, the first time I heard it, I knew I was home.

This is why Mitt Romney’s famous, scorned comment about “trees are the right height” didn’t faze me. In a campaign characterized by failure to connect, this comment was gleefully pounced on by talking heads who are having all too easy a time making fun of the sorry-ass muffin-heads posturing as 2012 GOP candidates. Romney is a dork, there’s no doubt about it. But this particular comment made sense in a funny way. Sometimes it’s the little things that tell you when you’re home.

Chocolate for Breakfast

chocolate muffinInstead of getting to my desk early to blog, I biked a mile and a half out of my way to the Biscuit Bakery to eat a vegan chocolate muffin. Today’s blog post harks back to the early days of blogging, when everyone knew that “blog” was short for “web log,” you’d often learn what the writer ate for breakfast, and we weren’t so worried about blogs as vehicles for inbound marketing.

The chocolate muffins at the Biscuit are not at all cakey or crumbly, but chewy and substantial. You don’t get the jitters a half hour after eating them the way you do with some muffins that are all sugar with not enough fat. The top crust is slightly crisped, kissed with confectioner’s sugar, but not so much you get it on your shirt. The chocolate chips you find about every other bite are still semi-liquid even when the muffins have cooled to room temperature. Sometimes you get a touch of bitterness on your tongue from too much baking soda (one of the pitfalls of vegan baking), but otherwise the muffins are perfect. With zero cholesterol and a zillion calories, they are the perfect treat for someone like me, teetering on the edge of having to take one of those awful anti-cholesterol potions with side effects like lack of desire and suicide.

They used to hawk these puppies at the Diesel, but now the occasion of barricading myself with a novel, a cup of coffee, my reading glasses, and a chocolate muffin for 30 minutes of “me” time has been relocated. I have been missing these muffins for almost a year. We all get a bit emotional about food and coffee . . . my friends will tell you that I still wax way too eloquent (that’s a fancy way of saying “talk too much”) about the Coffee Connection, George Howell’s¬†ground-breaking gourmet coffee shop that originated in Harvard Square but had spawned babies all over the metro Boston area before Starbucks killed, er, bought the chain. Other places that did not need to disappear include the Harvard Donut Shop, Central Square’s bakery that mysteriously served a bewildering variety of enormous fluffy muffins but no donuts . . . and the Someday Cafe, the Davis Square bistro founded by three young Seattle carpet-baggers who sold their place to the guy from Toscanini’s who then lost his lease with Mel Fraiman (better known as the landlord who poured heart and soul into the renovation of the Somerville Theatre) because he simply forgot to sign the paperwork . . . and for months afterwards petitions were circulating to “save the Someday” . . . to no avail . . .

Some of these places are so long gone that you can’t hardly find them on Google, but I still miss them.

As my friend Charlene St. Jean would say on one of her Facebook posts designed to engage her audience . . .

What do YOU miss?

National Debt, Family-Style

eating from a can

You spend all your cash at a nightclub Friday night. Sunday morning, you go grocery shopping and put the groceries on your credit card because they’re a necessity. Next weekend you pass up an extra shift on your job because you’re exhausted. Ten years later, you owe $15,000 on your credit cards and it takes five years of working two jobs to pay it off.

You didn’t have the discipline to forgo the nightclub, work the extra shift, eat canned goods from your pantry till the next paycheck . . . Now it costs you a lot more time and energy to get yourself out of the hole.

It’s the same way with raising kids. They challenge us all the time, testing to see if we’re weak. It’s easy, now, to be inconsistent. Your son wants an extra cookie and you cave in because you’re too tired to say no. It’s easier to pick up the living room floor yourself than it is to get your daughter to do so. One of your children makes a disrespectful comment in front of company and you don’t address it at the time because you don’t want to cause a “scene.” Ten years later, your kids are taller than you and they’re raising hell all over the community.

It’s hard to do the right thing now. I always try to remember, when one of these little challenges crops up, that any time and energy saved now will be paid back with interest in the future — by myself, my child, and our community. As the Bible says in Hebrews 12:11: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Managing Content for Value, Part 1: Define the Goals Up Front

Define your goals up front so you have a clear signIf you’re managing a content-creation project — especially if you are the person hired to produce the content — it helps to define the goals of your project up front.

Whether you’re a designer, writer, marketing manager, jingle producer, or Flash developer; whether you are working as a freelancer or on the payroll; you are being paid to advance the goals of the organization that is hiring you.

Many projects start out with very nebulous goal definitions. If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard people say “I think we need a blog because everyone else seems to have one.” Then when you create the project, goals get thrown at it afterwards. “Why isn’t my blog generating leads?” Your job at the outset is to take a businesslike approach and firm up some goals.

You may encounter some resistance to goal-setting. Be gentle but firm. “Other projects only succeed when they have clearly defined goals. A content creation project should be no different.”

To set goals, a brainstorming meeting is key. Make sure all decision-makers are involved in the meeting, but not necessarily all stake-holders. Are you creating marketing materials? You’ll need input from the sales team. You should include the leader of that team in the meeting, but not the entire team. Involving too many people in a meeting spends too much human capital and can turn into a free-for-all.

What if a key decision-maker refuses to participate in the meeting? This tells you that the project isn’t really that important to the organization — no matter what your point of contact or immediate supervisor says. At that point you can choose to push back. “The meeting will only take 55 minutes of your time, but without it, we can’t make sure the project will meet the company’s goals.” If this doesn’t work, try to coach your contact on getting the necessary information for you.

The goal for the meeting should be to agree on what problems the company is trying to solve with this project. You should come to the meeting with a list of questions. Our company recently held a meeting where we went through the entire sales process step by step, and then brainstormed what pieces of content would be helpful to the salespeople at each stage.

Good questions to ask at the meeting are:

  • Why do you want to produce this project?
  • Which of your organization’s goals are you trying to promote, or what problems are you trying to solve?
  • How do you expect this project to meet your goals?
  • Are there better ways to meet the goals you have in mind?

This last question is risky. Let’s say you’ve been hired to design a billboard to appear on a major highway, but the client wants to increase sales of a product to people who don’t drive. You desperately want to design the billboard because of the large fee involved. But your client’s goals would be much better served with flyers handed out to subway riders. You will lose your fee if you push the client to think clearly about her business goals. Consider the lost income an investment in your credibility, your relationship with the client, and your career.

After the meeting, circulate a memo to all decision-makers stating what you took away about the client’s goals. Refer to this document often during the content development process. If the project seems to be straying from the goals you originally outlined, get it back on track or get the decision-makers to revisit the goals.

In the next post, we’ll dive into how a few different ways to measure the progress towards the goals you’ve outlined.