In a perfect world, manufacturing documentation is ordered and controlled. Product Development conducts a feasibility study for a new product idea. Product developers or engineers create a design document, which eventually turns into the product specification. The product spec becomes the “truth” source for the product. All subsequent information such as users’ manuals, sales material, product feature sheets, and much more come from that source.
The design and development stage is probably regulated through a document management and control system where versions are tracked, and changes noted, in compliance with ISO standards. A typical workflow might look like this:
Although a product specification may be released, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t change. Ongoing development and testing often results in changes after the initial specification is released. This change process is especially short-lived in agile development environments. The truth source changes, but the subsequent documentation may or may not change along with it.
The simplified diagram above shows how inconsistent information could be delivered across the enterprise. What it doesn’t take into account is time. Depending on when the truth source is accessed, the information may be different. For example, the department responsible for user documentation - typically Customer Success or Support - checks with the truth source at some interval and incorporates changes into employee and customer documentation. The Training department, however, only accesses the user information once, does not have access to the truth source, and is never notified when user documentation changes. Over time, training becomes more and more outdated.
Imagine this process in an agile environment where iteration after iteration happens within weeks or months rather than years. No wonder post-release information is messy.
Post-release information is not only messy. It is ineffective. Just ask the people using it. From employees to customers, the variations in information impact their ability to do their jobs. Even worse, the sales and marketing people unknowingly provide inaccurate information to potential customers, distributors, and investors. That doesn't do much for a company's credibility. Exactly how much damage does the post-release mess do?
Factory and Field
For new employees, their source of information comes from training. The problem with training material is that it could be out of date. Training tends to rely on user documentation for its content, but the L&D department is rarely notified when a change is made to the documentation. What do employees do when the information they received in training doesn't match their experience on the floor? Do they trust the training documentation or the sticky note left by a previous employee?
What about the field technician? Their information comes through the user documentation and the training channels. Manuals are prepared for the customer, technicians, engineers, and programmers who support the product. But manuals are also available as part of training. How does a field technician know which document to trust? How do they know which one has the information they need vs. the information a customer needs?
Even if the information is available, is it accessible? Can the technician get the latest troubleshooting information from his phone? Does he have to go online using a company laptop to access it? How does that happen in the middle of a cornfield in western Kansas?
Customer Service and Support
Before technology, customers made phone calls when they needed help. The individual answering the call either resolved the problem or sent a technician to address it. When technicians ran into problems they couldn't resolve using their troubleshooting manuals, they called back to the office for help. Problems were solved with a phone and a printed manual.
Now, customers call a support center that helps them resolve their problems remotely. Where do call centers get their information? Since most call centers have access to some form of online documentation, where did the data come from? Was it derived from user or training documentation? Is it in a database or an online users' manual?
Let's say the material is derived from a users' manual. Is it the most current information? How often is that material updated, if at all? Working from outdated or inaccurate information makes it difficult for customer service to address the customer's needs effectively. Poor customer service is the number one reason people stop using a company's products. In fact, 62% felt product knowledge and insight were vital to good customer service.
Sales and Marketing
Sales and Marketing often work from pre-release information. Marketing is tasked with promoting the product before the release to create interest. Sales is being asked to talk up the new features to increase sales. After release, are Sales and Marketing updated with the post-release information? Or do they continue to rely on the pre-release materials? Continued use of pre-release information often leads to unfulfilled customer expectations. That's why it is essential that Sales and Marketing receive post-release updates. A recent study found that people are more likely to move on to the next provider if a product fails to meet expectations. Only 35% said they would be willing to give the company a chance to rectify the problem.
If the post-release information seemed messy before, it probably seems unmanageable now. It’s not a matter of dusting off a few procedures and getting rid of a few piles of paper. The chaos of post-release information isn’t created by way of the material itself. It's also about how the information is created, accessed, and used.
It's a spider web of information. It's all connected, but the connections are fragile and riddled with holes.
When a new feature is released, the spider web grows. Both print and online user documentation must be updated. Marketing needs to promote the new feature through updated web content and print advertising. What about Training? L&D has to update their end as well. The call center's information has to be current, but that cannot happen when it isn't part of the original workflow process.
A robust knowledge management platform can calm the content chaos. It prevents employees - and ultimately customers - from having to work with outdated information across multiple channels. It essentially ensures the reliability of the material and its real-time distribution across the organization. This then leads to improved productivity in your workforce. To achieve corporate-wide goals for content control, a knowledge management solution must have the ability to scale up as an organization grows.
If you're interested in controlling the content chaos in your organization, we'd love to show you how. With its comprehensive and scalable design, the GT Platform can turn chaos into actionable content across an entire enterprise.