If you store documents in your repository with the code this makes it easier to track them and do things like branch different versions for a release. Doing this manually with no SCM tool support can be a bit of an overhead, but several SCM tools have Office plug-ins which make this fairly easy (and Office itself is WebDAV compliant which can help with other tools). It is possible to compare versions of Word documents using built in comparison facilities (we don’t recommend using the built in versioning though). Manual merging is often surprisingly easy if you have a couple of windows open with differences highlighted in each and some judicious copy and pasting gets the job done.
Of course the specialist requirements tools claim to solve a lot of these problem, although usually at a not insignificant cost. In our January crystal ball gazing column  we referred briefly to some of the advances we expect to see in requirements tools: they typically have wonderful facilities for attaching and viewing meta-data and links and taking a container-based view of collections of items, while lacking considerably in areas of branching and merging and baselining when it comes to having to support multiple projects/variants/sites. The Source Code version control tools have the opposite problem. We expect to see considerable improvement in this area, and unified repositories potentially offer big advantages. We have written before  about the use of story cards within agile methods such as XP, and our recommendation to balance the use of physical cards with appropriate electronic backup.
Task-Based Development (TBD)
This implies that changes to software should be associated with specific tasks—this enables traceability. If you take this approach to its logical conclusion and mandate that no change can take place without an associated task you run the risk of people working around the problem. They associate a change with any old convenient task, and the traceability becomes much less useful. Especially for agile development you need to allow for activities such as refactoring. The benefit of this is not immediate, and yet if it isn’t done regularly (mercilessly in some circles!), cruft builds up which slows the whole tempo of development. How do you know when enough refactoring has been done—that is usually a judgment call, and should be left to your developers, especially the senior ones—after all, why else do you employ them?! Done well, TBD provides a huge amount of benefit for very little overhead.
Automate, Automate, Automate!
However, we have seen any number of organizations where the actual linking of the changes checked in to the requirements involves various manual steps—copying and pasting from one application to another, or retyping information. Little steps, and some frequent slips—what seems a small overhead can mount up very quickly. Even if your tool doesn’t directly support this, some judicious scripting works wonders.
One of the authors had a recent experience reviewing a team of over 100 developers. They had some review processes in place which required them to package up diffs of changes and get them reviewed. Someone had written a simple script to help automate part of this process. The script did diffs of all checked out files, not just the ones specific to that task. This required manual editing of the output file before attaching to an email. By adding 3 characters to the script we solved that problem saving a few minutes a day each for 100+ people—mounts up, doesn’t it! For ideas and the whole ethos behind automation, see the work of the Pragmatic Programmers.