Companies frequently come to us looking for assistance to improve how they develop, deliver, and maintain their product documentation. Typically, a company may find that the documentation is not meeting the needs of the end users, or that the cost of developing and maintaining the documentation is becoming an issue as the company grows. These companies realize they need outside assistance from an experienced firm with technical expertise to look at their specific needs and develop specific, actionable recommendations.
To serve companies like this, InfoPros’ uses its Consulting Services group to work with the company to develop an in-depth understanding of the company’s needs and pain points. Then we will analyze the tools and processes currently being used to develop and maintain the required documentation. This allows us to then develop recommendations which, working with company management, are then used to develop a comprehensive Recommendations Report, essentially a blue print of how to go forward and affect the required changes.
One Client’s Objectives
A company that manufactures complex, highly customized, software-intensive products approached InfoPros about their need to significantly improve how they were developing and delivering product documentation. The company was spending considerable time and money developing, printing and distributing product manuals, yet they struggled to keep the documentation current with the ongoing product releases. Users of the documentation complained that, in a number of ways, the manuals were not meeting their needs. The company knew they needed to move their documentation online, to solve some of their challenges, but had no path for accomplishing this. All the while, the costs associated with supporting product documentation were continuing to increase including adding additional staff and contractors.
Having struggled with these issues for an extended period of time they contacted InfoPros for assistance, identifying three key business goals for product documentation:
- Product documentation needed to be more accessible to customers and team members; printed manuals, hundreds of pages long, were not meeting the needs of either customers or the company’s own service and support personnel.
- The time required to develop and update the documentation needed to be reduced, thereby allowing the documentation to be kept current with the current software and hardware releases.
- The total cost associated with developing and updating content needed to be reduced.
While every engagement is unique based upon a company’s specific needs, InfoPros has an established process to gain the in-depth knowledge needed to develop strategic recommendations. These recommendations are the blueprint that will assist companies in achieving their documentation goals.
Establish the Baseline
- Requirements for the Audience and Document Deliverables – InfoPros interviewed those groups that ‘touched’ the product documentation. In this case that included Engineering, Software QA, Product Management, Marketing, IT, Field Service, Customer Support, as well as the product documentation team. This allowed us to identify the needs of each group as well as the current pain points.
- Content Analysis – InfoPros then did a ‘deep-dive’ on a subset of the current product documentation which allowed us to determine if the documents were fulfilling the needs of the end-users and, if not, identify the specific shortcomings.
- Documentation Development Process – InfoPros examined how the documents were developed, the tools that were used, the processes for tracking and reviewing content, and how documentation fit into the processes used by other related part of the business.
- Documentation Delivery Format – InfoPros uncovered how content (e.g., documents, updates) was made available to the various users (e.g., field engineers, customers).
This Process allowed the InfoPros team to develop an in-depth knowledge of the current needs, processes, and pain points which provided a baseline to begin the process of developing recommendations for affecting the required improvements.
Identify the Core Issues
The InfoPros experts rely on years of experience and best practices to sift through the baseline data and distill a list of the core issues. In this case, the key findings were as follows:
- The manuals were very detailed and complete, but, at hundreds of pages, were too long; users had difficulty finding the specific information that they were looking for.
- There was too much introductory and explanatory information about the product that no one used; this increased the cost of developing, printing, and maintaining the manuals.
- There were a number of features and sections that users rarely required/used. Users were not reading the manual. Most customers were calling Customer Support when they had a problem.
- When the customers received onsite training, the trainer did not use the manual so thecustomer was not familiar with locating information within the manual.
- There were a number of issues related to the processes being used by the product documentation team:
- Due to the tools and templates currently in use, considerable time was spent maintaining the formatting of documents.
- There was no strategy for reusing repetitive content among the different documents or between products in a family.
- The processes were not aligned with the Agile process being used by the Software Engineering team.
- There was no process for managing the various priorities and requests that the Documentation team received and there was no resource planning taking place.
After the in-depth analysis, InfoPros developed a comprehensive set of recommendations for driving efficiencies and achieving the company’s top overall objectives. The InfoPros team leveraged their experience working with a wide variety of companies, applying best practices, and knowing what will drive the unit cost improvements (e.g., cost per page) that the company required. At a high level, the key recommendations were to:
- Reduce the amount of content being developed and maintained; rarely used documents should be archived or eliminated entirely.
- Reduce the amount of content being printed; printed content should be in the form of checklists. The more detailed content -which will be used much less frequently- should be made available online.
- Accelerate the use of DITA, which will allow content to be more easily reused while reducing the time/cost associated with updating content. DITA will also largely reduce the time being spent to format the printed manuals.
- Move documentation to HTML and web-based delivery, creating separate sites for customers and for company support groups.(Note that for both the move to DITA and HTML and web-based delivery, InfoPros provided specific recommendations as to tools, processes, and priorities.)
- Implement a comprehensive structure for managing the priorities and workload of the product documentation team; align that structure with the current Agile-based process being used by Engineering.
By following these recommendations, InfoPros forecasted yearly savings of over 110%. 20% of the reduced costs came from print savings, many of the savings are a direct result from creating improvements in efficiencies. The recommended process improvements reduced the amount of customer support calls, eliminated the use of additional contractors, and used Subject Matter Experts much more efficiently. Beyond cash flow, the company will be improving customers’ perceptions, making documentation available quicker, and spending less management time on documentation.
InfoPros presented its recommendations to the company’s management team and had several review sessions with them, discussing the recommendations and the path forward. After the final review, InfoPros delivered the finalized report and started work on the implementation shortly thereafter.
InfoPros is in the business of solving our clients’ problems. The experienced Consulting Services team at InfoPros are uniquely skilled at uncovering solutions for improvement and providing the blueprint to do so. If you believe the way your documentation is developed, delivered, or maintained has room for improvement, InfoPros will work with you to provide the recommendations for your specific needs. You can follow the blueprint recommendations in-house or choose InfoPros to implement the recommendations so that your processes and documentation will become effective and efficient.