Documentation re-use

Use information multiple times through smart modularisation.

Documentation re-use

When taking over the technical documentation team for a machine building company, we faced numerous challenges that I was able to overcome as a Project Manager. One of them was the assembly instructions.

Actually, all company stakeholders were completely satisfied with the content of the documents. The documents included everything the assembly and service personnel needed. But there was one problem:
Although the service and assembly departments found the content good, they had completely different ideas about how the documents should be structured.

The service department wanted a document that contained all relevant information about a specific machine series. This should be marked with serial number-specific information, so that the service employees can know at a glance which machine variants have been created over the years by optimising the machine's design. Because: Despite the specification of the serial number, it is not always clear which machine variant is actually installed at a customer site.

The Assemblydepartments from the various plants were nevertheless completely dissatisfied with this type of document. You cannot do anything with the information about previous series because the assembly colleagues have the task to build a machine with a very specific (and current) serial number. The information on "historical" machines ensured that employees often didn't use the correct settings because they accidentally or unknowingly referenced the incorrect serial number range. The wish of the assembly department was to therefore receive a document, in which the precise contents for the machine to be built were contained, and not those of the previous serial numbers.

To serve these two different purposes, without increasing the time required in the technical writing department, was my job. Fortunately, I have been able to rely on the support of our IT department for their solutions, because without programming, we would not have gotten any further.

After some brainstorming sessions and workshops with the process participants, the solution (consisting of two actions) became clear:

  • First of all, the technical basis had to be created in the Content Management System (CMS) for accommodating both the serial number-specific instructions for the assembly department (i.e. "assembly information") and the serial number-overlapping instructions for the service department (i.e. "service information") from a single source.
  • Then we had to put together the correct assembly information from the most common modules for each serial number. That was a lot of hard work for almost 1000 machines. But the result was worth it: The system now clearly defines how each individual machine is to be configured.

The script created by my colleagues from IT rounds things off: From the modules of the assembly instructions, the technical documentation department can now automatically generate service instructions for any serial number range. This is extremely convenient, because the assembly and service departments always receive the latest and most correct information about the machines.

Why am I writing all of this here? Well, I think it's a nice example of how we found a simple solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem through the interaction of the technical documentation and IT departments. And we are actually a little proud of it.


Alexia Hölscher
Blog post Alexia Hölscher
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