The call that came in was a common one in my business... the doc department manager was short handed, had just been given another product line to document, and the deadlines were getting shorter and shorter every day.
And, as always, the marketing team wanted to get the newest "thang" out the door before the competition did.
The manager sighs deeply and says, "Oh, and by the way, we need a text-based help file, a context-sensitive help file, a manual, training guides, and keynotes for the tech support team.
And we've got to make sure all the content matches without taking up too much of the engineers' time."
Not asking much, eh?
Before we started...
The manager was a referral from another client for whom I'd created a customized Repurposing...On Purpose™ system that cut content production time by 45%.
We spent several hours on the phone working through goals, deadlines, and how to make sure things worked right.
After creating what seemed like hundreds of flow diagrams, test documents, and working with his senior documentation writers, we created a plan for a prototype project. We would run the projects in tandem to make sure we didn't miss any deadlines.
The final proposal included the content analysis, initial prototype, highly customized Adobe FrameMaker templates, written documentation for the Repurposing... On Purpose™ system, 1 week of in-person training, and follow up phone support for the writing team.
These were the elements the 8-person team needed to be self-sufficient and crank out the content needed on a daily basis.
The team initially struggled with this approach...both with the unique templates that were different than anything they had seen before AND with writing in a way that was, frankly, alien to them.
Most technical writers (or doc specialists) are used to writing, you guessed it, a document. Not bits and pieces of a "document" that are then combined in different ways. I taught them how to think differently, using the analogy of separate ingredients combined into multiple recipes.
The only way to keep up with the insane deadlines and not kill the entire team was to move to a structured writing model where content is stored in "chunks" that can be reused at will.
When you combine the structured writing approach with the right tools and templates, it is amazing how quickly things get done.
One the training was done, objections overcome, and some real successes seen, the team was ecstatic and actually came to me asking for MORE automation (something they resisted vehemently when we started).
There were many tests, tweaks, and updates made over the course of approximately 8 months.
One of the most exciting results was when one team member delivered ALL the required documentation, with edits, updates, and engineering changes in 48 hours with a single writer.
Before? It took a minimum of 2 weeks with multiple writers, lots of complaints from the engineering and marketing teams, and massive numbers of long days with no time off.
The documentation manager could breathe again, products (with documentation) were going out on schedule, and the initial investment of approximately $60,000 U.S. was recouped in less than 6 months.