Why Version Control Isn't Just a Web Development Thing
Cloud-Based Version Control Improves Efficiency, Decreases Lost Work, Makes Collaboration Easy, and More
“Version control” may sound like two of the most boring words ever strung together in the English language, but trust us, implementing the right processes related to these two words can be the difference between losing all your work when your computer randomly decides it’s going on strike and having it safely saved in the cloud at all times, no fuss, no muss. If you’ve never had one of those hair-pulling moments where you’ve lost hours of work because you failed to hit “Save” before your computer crashed, then you live a glorious life and should feel #blessed.
But for the rest of us unlucky folk, good version control practices are a must. They allow your team to be on the same page (literally) when it comes to business materials and documentation, and while version control is most often associated with software and web development, the concepts can—and should—be applied to pretty much every team that relies on collaboration to get things done. Below we’ll list out a number of reasons why we obsess over cloud-based version control here at efelle and the ways we implement it to ensure our projects are always backed up and on track.
But First, What do We Even Mean by Version Control and “The Cloud”?
Version control, put simply, refers to the systems through which you track and record changes to files or documents so that if unexpected crashes occur or problematic alterations are made, your team can recover and revert to previous versions of those files/documents.
Modern day version control requires, to a large extent, cloud-based storage capabilities. In the spirit of not over- or under-explaining what “the cloud” means here, I’ll share recode.net’s definition:
“The cloud refers to software and services that run on the Internet, instead of locally on your computer...The advantage of the cloud is that you can access your information on any device with an Internet connection. It’s what allows you to make edits to a file in Google Docs on your home computer, and then pick up where you left off when you get to the office. Colleagues can even collaborate on the same document.”
Taken together, cloud-based version control has many benefits: Gone are the days where you’d create a new file on your computer, send it to a teammate for edits, have them send it back (making you re-download it), and on and one until one of you inevitably loses track of which version is the most recent. With the cloud, you can simultaneously work on the same document and have all version history recorded for you. In most cases, hitting the “Save” button isn’t even required (nor are the 100-page long email threads between you and your colleague as you hash things out).
The Importance of Cloud-Based Version Control from a Business Perspective
Pretty much everyone hates meetings, especially when those meetings can be handled over email or a quick chat. They take up people’s time, they almost always veer off-topic, and they often interrupt people during their regular workflow (by which we mean the “thing” they were hired to do in the first place). Think about why you typically schedule meetings—a lot of the time it’s to give progress reports and status updates so that everyone knows where a given project is at, correct?
While cloud-based version control may not entirely eliminate the need to hold meetings, it can help decrease the number of meetings held. When your documents live on the cloud (ie, everyone has access to them through a shared cloud-based drive like DropBox or Google Drive; larger offices may have SharePoint), you can eliminate the need to rally the team as well as the hours spent on figuring out who has which version of what.
It also means fewer printouts which just makes good, eco-friendly sense these days.
We’d also like to point out here that when starting a new project (including a website redesign project with our team here at efelle), your considerations around version control shouldn’t just be limited to where things are stored. You should also think about who gets access to what.
Teams that are too large tend to be ineffectual, suffering from the classic “too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome. At efelle, we strongly recommend you dedicate any project to a small committee rather than opening it up to your whole company. Give one person the rights to approval and a handful of others the opportunity to offer feedback on design, functionality, and content choices. Fortunately, cloud-based version control software makes it easy to share documents with specific people or groups of people so that you’re not constantly burdening your whole team with documents they don’t need to see.
The Importance of Cloud-Based Version Control for Content Creation and Delivery
Content is the biggest version control-related phase of the website building process that our clients are a part of. To this end, we typically request that our clients use G Suite—ie, Google—products to provide content (ie, website copy, image and video URLs, etc.) to our team.
Why? Google Docs is 100 percent cloud based; we can edit and make comments on the exact version of each document that our clients see and vice versa. When we make updates, we can signify these to the client so they can approve our changes or know where we’re at in the content entry process. When someone makes a questionable update to a document and we’re not sure who did it or when, we can quickly review the revision history and revert to a previous version if need be. If we’re both looking at a spreadsheet at the same time and you change one of the cells to read “Good Enough Sucks” instead of “Good Enough is Good Enough,” I’ll see that on my screen moments later (as long as we’re both connected to the internet).
To be sure, we will always accept our clients’ content in whatever means they can give it to us (but preferably, those means should be digital—giving any agency printed versions of content you want on your website will drive your costs way up and slow your timeline way down). Given how content tends to be the biggest timeline destroyer in the majority of unlaunched projects, we will never complain when a client hands us a Microsoft Word .doc instead of a Google Doc.
But here’s an example of why sending us updated versions of a static Microsoft document is problematic: We had a client once use Excel almost exclusively to provide us with content. We understand that Excel is what they use in their workplace and we were happy to receive their content in this manner. However, during their content creation process, our team would receive new versions of the same spreadsheet almost daily—with each having slight alterations. This process continued for weeks—even after we had started entering content into their content management system (ie, entering it onto their website).
Every time we received a new document, we had to assess what content had changed and then communicate this info manually to our entire content entry team. Normally, when we’re using Google Sheets and one of us enters something into the CMS, we highlight that cell in orange on the spreadsheet and move on—our entire team can see at a glance what content has been entered already, making it easy to tag-team the content entry process. But with this project, we had to wrange around 20 different versions of the same spreadsheet—and the cross-referencing became insane.
As an already data entry-intensive project, this process slowed the entire project timeline down even more.
This isn’t to say that G Suite products are the only cloud-based solutions for smooth content-gathering processes (we’re aware that Microsoft also has a cloud-based platform for Office products and that there are a number of cloud-based programs dedicated to content gathering available on the web). But we like Google Office products because they’re basically free for anyone who has a Gmail account, they’re easy to learn and use (with a number of dedicated tutorials available online for filling in knowledge gaps), and they’re generally far more easy to leverage for the average client or small business than competing platforms.
They also come equipped with “autosave,” meaning that if your computer randomly reboots in the middle of your work day, whatever was on your screen will still be on your screen when you’re back online.
The Importance of Cloud-Based Version Control for Designers and Developers
A lot of things can get in the way of an individual designer’s or developer’s workflow: last-minute requests, teammate vacations, unexpected illnesses—the usual. When things like this come up, the ability to coordinate as a team becomes mandatory.
For designers and developers, version control does the following:
- Ensures that multiple people can work on one project with more freedom in contributing and more security in understanding work won’t be lost due to mistakes
- Is a part of a decentralized workflow ensuring that in the case of something unexpected happening (ex: someone loses a thumb drive or their computer suddenly dies) the team won’t lose any progress or time
- Improves team efficiency and collaboration by making feedback delivery a cinch
Our design team is particularly fond of sharing files on DropBox because its folder system integrates seamlessly with desktop environments—the latest version of each comp is automatically saved to the cloud when any given designer updates the file in their photo editing program of choice. The designers also like scheduling out tasks on the cloud-based platform, Trello, which provides the entire team instant visual cues—in the form of bulletin board-like cards—as to where each project is at, who’s responsible for what, and so on (it’s like version control for your team’s schedule).
Development team members, meanwhile, consider version control through GitHub an essential part of their workflow. Using GitHub, they can store and download any version of any efelle-created theme or application to their local drives in order to make edits or correct flaws from recent updates. Without programs like GitHub, the process of sharing code between team members could take all day and the process of fixing bugs could leave websites offline for way too long (any downtime is too long, really).
In fact, version control is such a large part of the web development workflow that if your team is considering a website redesign, you should make asking about it part of your agency vetting process. If an agency can’t give you a solid answer about how they account for version control, run far far away (and contact us here!).
We’ve Got Website Design and Development Best Practices Down to an Art
Knowing the ins and outs of web design is about more than just creating beautiful websites—it’s also about delivering highly functional, modern, and user-friendly projects on time and on budget. If you’re not sure where to start with a website redesign or just need a little online marketing counseling, we’ve got you covered. Reach out to us at 206.384.4909 or via our online contact form. We can’t wait to hear from you.