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Different documents for Different People

How to tailor information to each user - making it as easy as possible for everyone to engage with your work, project or deliverables.

Having worked in organisations large and small for many years, we have learned that often projects and business initiatives fail or are delayed when we can’t get the right people to engage with what we are doing.

  • Requirements are incomplete.
  • The impacts of risks and valid mitigations are not fully understood.
  • Designs haven’t been reviewed by all the right people.
  • Assumptions are not made explicit.

All the information may have been available, but not in a convenient form for all stakeholders.

What’s needed is a way to tailor information to each user – making it as easy as possible for them to engage with our work, our project, our deliverables.

It’s obvious isn’t it?

The Programme manager doesn’t need to see the test specification, the Ops manager doesn’t need to see every detail of every use case, the customer facing team won’t need to know the architectural trade-offs.

Each person needs just the specific information that lets them do their job. Given to them in a way that makes it obvious what’s important, and lets them get on with what they need to do next.

But it’s such a pain creating documents

Almost no-one likes creating documents. They take time we’d rather spend doing something more creative. And pretty much as soon as they are finished, they are out of date.

Because it’s such a chore, the obvious thing to do is to put as much information as we can into each document. Then we don’t have to produce as many.

And it’s dull reading them

The trouble with most documents that contain lots of content (which was the easiest thing for us) is that every reader then has to plough through lots of stuff that isn’t relevant to them, just to find the bits that are.

Or maybe they don’t even read them at all. And instead come to us asking for a ‘quick run through’ of the critical bits. Which isn’t a good use of anyone’s time.

Let’s get rid of documents altogether then

Like the paperless office, that one seems to be a pipe dream. Most businesses need to have traceability of what and when and why. Records that can be traced, clarity about decisions reached and configurations deployed, contracts signed and assumptions documented.

Even (particularly?) in a world of Agile development, there is a place for some documentation. A photograph of sticky notes on a white board can be difficult to interpret when viewed a year later, out of context.

The challenge

So how can we create different documents for different people.? Not only that, but also create documents that speed up the work we do, that improve the quality of the work we do, and that deliver real business benefits?

How do we make documents that work for the author and the reader, for the individual and for the organisation? Individual documents that are consistent with others that have been created, that you don’t have to stop or slow down other work to create, that are available when they are needed (not 2 weeks later), that help us work smarter?

Why not generate documents direct from a model?

Not just ‘cut and paste’ individual diagrams from one tool into a separate document or email. But auto generate a set of documents from a common store of information, each one for a different audience, each one doing a different job.

Using a common set of modelled information, we can create the documents our business needs.

Every person with their own view of a common set of data.

There is a place for the ‘everything I know’ type document – but it’s usually in the company or project archives. It’s the insurance policy. That you want to keep just in case, but hope never to need.

But for pretty much every other purpose, we need to be cleverer than that. Cleverer in the way we create the information and cleverer in the way we publish it.

Documents that are personalised can contain just the information that each person needs. Just the diagrams that they can understand, just the content that is relevant. Sorted, filtered and formatted just for them.

Personalised content

With the right structure, …

In an ideal world, the structure of each document would be fit for each exact audience and purpose. And the content within each document tailored, with all the right things included and excluded.

… the right formatting …

It makes a difference to readability so it’s important to choose whether we present the information as tables or as in-line text, displayed in spreadsheets or as charts.

… and clear navigation.

Each audience and each document will be different. So it is important to think about the best way to include related information. Maybe ‘in-situ’, integrated into the root information. Or accessible with hyperlinks, so readers can move around the document in the same way they would online.

Made clear

It should be obvious what document it is and where it comes from. That means it ‘looks right’ – with company branding, fonts, styles and standards built in. And with full traceability of authors and approvals, versions and dates.

Not only that, but to make it easier for readers to spot the important stuff, it’s good to include formatting to highlight areas or flag key issues for action.

Available when needed

Documents that can be generated directly from models can be produced instantly whenever they are needed. That means there’s no need to add excessive time into the plan for collating and writing the key documentation, and we can avoid adding delay and frustration to time critical deliverables.

And they can be updated automatically, with the minimum fuss. Providing full traceability and control of the project deliverables.

Is that all?

Well, it’s a start…

In summary, we believe that a good document should:

Documents that meet all these criteria allow us to …

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