Track Changes: Love, or Hate It, You Need It.

by | Insights & Guides

Track changes is one of those features that is a bit like HVAC in a building: it typically comes as standard, makes your day-to-day life more pleasant and comfortable, but you probably only really think about it when it doesn’t work the way you expect it to.  

Similarly, track changes – the ability to see what changes are made to a document, and by who and when – is something we expect to find when we open word processing software. Digital track changes as we know it today date back to at least Word 95, and even Word 3.0 for DOS had revision marks as a feature back in 1986, almost 40 years ago. Today, it’s a standard of whatever your preferred document software is. And it’s an undeniably useful tool: enabling transparency, facilitating trust and allowing multiple people to collaborate on documents from something as simple as a guest list for an event, to something as critical as a large CRE contract you are negotiating. It definitely beats exchanging marked-up paper copies and then trying to incorporate changes and keep a handle on the latest version.

But also, despite its clear utility, track changes is something of a double-edged sword, as anyone who has accidentally shared a version of a document with the behind-the-scenes debating, nit-picking and negotiating included for all to see. Then let’s take ironing out the details of a contract, for instance. Other challenges that arise are, for all its ability to foster transparency and trust, this is difficult to guarantee if you can’t be absolutely sure that the other party hasn’t strategically omitted to track changes on a small but significant detail. Say a clause is changed to move the responsibility for tax and utilities onto the landlord but not tracked: this could cost a landlord millions over the lifetime of a lease. 

Or one of the parties has accepted changes on something that works for them, without allowing everyone to weigh in properly. Or several people have made changes independently to the same document and you are now in revision hell. Who casts the final vote on which agreed changes are carried forward?

Then, when it comes to concluding the contract, who has ultimate approval? Who decides which of the changes are the “final final” changes, and who is going to work their way through the multiple markups and open comments to arrive at the final version? And then roll these changes out to related documents that have got out of sync.

And as documents get larger and more complex, all of these challenges expand, adding even more friction to a smooth and speedy deal as you make absolutely sure you are signing the contract you think you are. 

We’ve all probably got battle scars to show from similar tussles with track changes. As well as the specific scenarios outlined above, when track changes goes wrong, or is abused, it leaves you without a single source of truth and little faith in your negotiating partners. Both of these end up disrupting the deal flow: practically you waste time and effort on untangling a cat’s cradle of revisions to reach a single, agreed truth. And philosophically, you’ve lost trust in your partners and the process, causing resistance and delays in reaching an agreement. 

So although track changes is a useful tool when collaborating on a document, it arguably could do better in terms of speeding up deal velocity and fostering confidence and trust in the process on both sides of the deal. 

Find out how track changes, done the Propdocs way, can give you more control over the details of your deals.