Document Collaboration: Reviewing and Editing Documents in SharePoint vs. Email

At Montrium, I regularly coordinate document reviews both with clients and internal team members. Over the years, I have found that reviewing documents is one of the biggest pain points from an operational perspective, not only for our clients but also for internal departments. Everyone has their own way of going through this review process, but more often than not you’ll find that most document review happens via email, which, even when being extra careful, can cause some rather annoying problems.

At Montrium, I use Microsoft SharePoint every day; for reviewing and approving documents, submitting my time sheet and even requesting a vacation. SharePoint, Microsoft’s flagship content management and document collaboration platform, is becoming a heavily adopted solution in major organizations around the world, but how does reviewing documents in SharePoint vs. Email match up?

Reviewing Documents via Email

Constant emailing back and forth can be time consuming and can facilitate errors when there is more than one reviewer on a document.

I’m sure many of you have experienced the following situation; you spend hours working on a document then you email it to three colleagues for review. These three reviewers email you back three different documents with their comments and updates. Now you have the painstaking task of going through three different documents and incorporating these changes into your original document.

This isn’t ideal or efficient! Now imagine if there are multiple rounds of review, you will end up with countless copies of the same document going back and forth via email, with little or no control over the version or review process.

Let me summarize why email review is not ideal:

  • Attempting to manage several modified copies of the same document means that the review process can be very time consuming. Ensuring all of the updates are incorporated into one final document is not only painful but time consuming and inefficient when managed via email.

  • You may see yourself drift into dangerous territory when circulating documents via email because there is the risk of someone using an older or obsolete version of a document to perform their review or worse yet, finalizing an incorrect version.

  • No Traceability; the only way that we can tell who did what and when is if each reviewer re-names the filename to include the date and their name. This means that each reviewer must be diligent in following this convention.

One benefit when using emails for this process is that emails are received instantaneously, so colleagues receive notification that their review is required in real time. However when using SharePoint, there is the added feature of utilizing alerts and workflows to manage the review process which also provides real-time notifications, but that’s not the only bonus to working with SharePoint for document review.

Reviewing Documents via SharePoint

I always urge clients to share and review documents using SharePoint. For clients who have never used SharePoint before, giving up emailing documents for review can be a hard habit to break. Sometimes it’s like asking a chronic smoker to give up smoking.

Truth is, when we stick to our old ways, the review cycle of documents tends to take longer and there is always more work for someone to do.

Let me go over why you should break this habit now if you have SharePoint:

  • One copy of the document is posted in a central location, thus there is only one“source document”

  • Check in/check out required means that two (or more) reviewers can’t edit the same document simultaneously.

  • Conversely, SharePoint does have a synchronous review feature [in versions 2010 and newer] where multiple reviewers can work  in the same document and make changes. Word locks sections of the document that are being worked on to other reviewers. This can speed up review times and increase collaboration. SharePoint is flexible enough to allow only one user to review a document or allow many people to collaborate on a single document at the same time.

  • SharePoint saves older versions of your documents in a ‘version history’.  If a review was deemed unacceptable or a document is damaged, a previous version of the document can be restored.

  • The SharePoint ‘version history’ feature provides visibility and traceability to all the reviewers and parties involved. You can view when a document has been updated, and by whom. You can also review any comments entered about that document when it was checked in.

  • Workflows can be configured in SharePoint to manage the review process, as well as alerts to notify parties when documents have been modified.

The Takeaway

In conclusion, I personally prefer using SharePoint to perform document review as it provides a centralized location for all of my documents. This means that I don’t have to manage several copies of the same document, and it cuts the review cycle time considerably. Working with SharePoint also provides a lot of flexibility on how I can review the document and the option of setting up a workflow to manage the process.

That being said, I wouldn’t say email review is completely obsolete. I still use email to perform document review when SharePoint is not an option.

Whether you’re using SharePoint or emails to review documents, a process on how to review still needs to be defined and communicated, the team has to follow it and people need to be organized. SharePoint may help facilitate the document review and push it through quicker, but no system or technology will replace being organized, exercising good communication and implementing a good review process that fits your business needs.

If you found this interesting, I invite you to read one of our other blogs "10 Benefits of Moving to an Electronic Document Management System" . 

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About the Author: Stefanie Wu

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