Literature planning and workflow

Why should the creation of technical information be managed?

Technical documentation departments of mid-size companies are typically rather small with 3‒5 technical writers. Therefore, one might ask:

Why do we need task and workflow management to organize all of this?

Broken down to the basics, a workflow management system maintains the open tasks a specific user has and creates the follow-up tasks for other users once a task is done.

Seen as such, a workflow system makes sense even for one single user, because it keeps track of the current tasks, any accompanying information and the deadline ‒ nothing can get lost simply because the PostIt has fallen off the screen.

But even in small teams, there is often one person having more of an overview of the big picture while other writers are technically skilled in detail and write the documentation, create the illustrations, provide technical data and the like. In such constellations, it is a quite natural approach that the "big picture" person does the planning and distributes the work items, and the other authors fulfill them. While a "classical" way to manage such work relies on tools like Microsoft Excel, this is not optimal:

  • If the plan changes, the planning person must actively notify the other contributors that they should check the updated Excel sheet.
  • Completion of work items must actively be documented by users in the Excel sheet.
  • Even if changes are tracked in Excel, the information is rarely up to date. It is difficult to predict in-time completion based on this.

Even though it might be the same person performing both logical steps, planning and authoring, and even though the planner / author might join both to one practical step, both are different actions and require different perspectives. When conceiving a new documentation product, the planner should identify the existing modules and media assets (e. g., based on metadata), and decide for each node in the documentation to be written:

  • to re-use an existing item without further changes,
  • to version an existing item and apply the additions to content and metadata in the new version,
  • to copy and modify an existing item, or
  • to create new content from scratch.

Only with an overview perspective, the planning task can be performed with optimal re-use and information architecture.

When the document structure and the required actions for each node are decided, the planner documents them.

  • In an Excel approach, all modules are written into the table, and information about the creation process, the responsible author and any background information and metadata already known on planning level are added to the rows. Next, the planner creates the items in the Component CMS and adds a reference to them in the Excel sheet. The authors must pick the information they need from the Excel sheet and enter any further info and the completion status. All of this is manual. Particularly when review / modification cycles occur, this tends to become obscure.
  • In a workflow approach, the planner builds the document with links to new and re-used items and adds all planning information and task assignment directly to the nodes. The workflow system cares for all other management:
    • It sends work items to authors, node by node.
    • Once an author completes a work item, the assigned review person is automatically notified.
    • The reviewer adds any comments to the workflow item and optionally may add comments into the (PDF or HTML based) review document.
    • The reviewer decides whether to reject or accept the work item.
      • In case of rejection, the work item is sent back to the author with all comments or notes.
      • In case of acceptance, the work item is propagated to a released state.
      The workflow system not only tracks the work items, but also their statuses, and in consequence, changes the permissions so that current stakeholders can do their work but nothing else.

The advantages:

  • Users do not need to care about documenting their changes.
  • The completion status of any node is always known, thus, predictions whether completion in time is realistic are much easier.
  • No work items get lost.
  • Changes in the planning are immediately mirrored in the data and workflow. Obsolete tasks are withdrawn.
  • Due to the explicit planning step, re-use planning is from a global perspective and thus leads to higher re-use rates and better quality and integrity.

What we can do for you

  • Together with you, we analyse your information logistics and processes and conceive an automation suiting your existing Component CMS.
  • Depending on CCMS vendor policies, we implement the process automation ourselves or collaborate with the vendor.
  • Even though software system vendors offer the conception of such processes, too, they tend to be too focused on their own product. This is particularly relevant, when multiple information systems are connected and the processes touch more than one of them. For example, if a PIM system, a CCMS and a spare parts catalogue share data and the authoring process steps are interlinked. We know these system categories well and conceive workflow automation that integrates these systems.
Last modified 2 years ago Last modified on Sep 18, 2020, 8:18:43 AM
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