Real-time collaboration on documents is becoming a must-have feature for many knowledge workers. Simon recently reported on new co-authoring capabilities for Microsoft Word Web App, while Google Docs (s GOOG) has been in the news with a crowdsourced Tips and Tricks document for Google+.
It’s great to have access to technologies that allow us to collaborate on documents in real time. However, real-time collaboration, in fact all collaborative writing, will be more successful if you follow these five steps to integrate your writing process with your tool’s technical capabilities.
- Set the ground rules around writing and editing roles. Is this a free-for-all, or are some people writers, some editors, and others providing comments? There is no one right way for all projects, but for any particular project it is best if everyone knows the ground rules from the beginning.
- Create norms around expectations for different stages of the work so people won’t be afraid to start typing. There should be different expectations for alpha (very early stage, not ready for critique), beta (still early stage, but openly welcome to review), late (set structure, review focused on clarification and error correction), and final drafts.
- Discuss the time frame for the work. Will the document be completed or reach a new phase of development by the end of the day/session/on-line meeting, or is it a living document that is edited over a long period?
- Establish guidelines around who will work on what sections when. Some real-time collaboration tools (including Word Web App) won’t let multiple people work on the same paragraph at the same time — but the collaboration will be smoother if people also have parallel rules in their heads.
- Come up with a system for adding comments or noting approval. Will the team use built-in commenting capabilities (if they exist) or just add comments in the text itself? My teams like to use initials to indicate approval of different sections, and initials followed by a comment if there are suggestions or questions.
Given your own experiences in real-time collaboration, what additional tips and tricks would you suggest?