Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Updating Documentation Efficiently

Is there anyone out there that manages documentation updates efficiently??

This is a question I've asked myself and every search engine on the planet lately. So, let me explain a little bit about our conundrum. I feel it a bit premature to even be posting this, as it would be nice to have a solution worked out, but perhaps this will solicit a few suggestions from other readers.

Typically, our documents are meant to be printed and are formatted as such. Although I'm the only tech writer at my company, I work with a group of computer trainers, who also write documentation for end-users. We all generally work in MS Word and when files are published to our internal portal, we PDF them. So, essentially, we've got two copies of every file - one in Word, which is stored in our Document Management System (DMS), and one in PDF, which is on a server that feeds the portal interface for people to find help documentation. The tech documentation is in two places too - in Word format and stored in the DMS and also in a "tech knowledge database" that we've been using for years to keep technical knowledge and documentation in a shared space for all. You might be wondering why the DMS isn't considered a shared space -- it is, but it's a painstakingly slow process for people in other states and countries to access the documents in our document library here. We don't currently have a Content Management System in place....it's in the works, and has been for about 2 years. So, let's just say I'm not waiting for the CMS to be implemented to come up with a way to manage all of this stuff.

Well, as you can imagine, things have gotten a little out of hand. When you look at the latest updated document in Word, it doesn't match the latest PDF that was posted to the portal. Problem is, not everything we write in Word gets posted to the portal, so people "forget" to update what goes on the Portal. We've also introduced a wiki and some groups use that instead of the tech knowledge database. Some people prefer one over the other.

So, we need to come up with a system - to be more proactive in making updates. Best I can think of is that we have to make it mandatory to catalog every user-facing document we produce so that if we make a change it gets posted appropriately. The other issue that might be addressed by this is to alert us when the change we're making to one document should be made to other documents. For example, if something in the process itself changes (e.g., new server names or locations), we make that change to EVERY document that includes that information, not just the one we remembered to update. Seems like all of this should be automated, but aside from just creating a database of sorts with decent views and search capability, I'm at a loss. All of the solutions I come up with seem like we're creating much more work than should be necessary.

We'll be having discussions in our group over the next few weeks to get this moving, and I'll be sure to post updates.

In the meantime....any ideas out there you'd like to share would be most welcome.


Anonymous said...

Wikis are good, but an opene source CMS like Drupal is better for handling the global changes.

Catherine R. said...

Thanks. I'll look into Drupal.