DocOps: Blending automation and teamwork – by Michelle Knight

Michelle Knight | August 30, 2021

Automation and teamwork stand central to DocOps, a set of practices that continuously develop and improve existing documentation. Think of blending the two to achieve a flow to win, as the Boys in a Boat describes winning crew team in 1936.

A good software platform contributes towards streamlining DocOps, making processes go faster, like the narrowboat and oars required by a crew team during a race. However, DocOps also requires synchronization between business divisions and workers. Each content lifecycle component: planning, writing, building, testing, releasing, and analyzing documentation, progresses from one stage to another.

Customer self-service works well with a sound DocOps, providing quality information about routine questions and troubleshooting 24/7. At the same time, customers find support staff available, as in the cartoon, for more complex or specialized types of issues. 

The combination of good people, processes, and technology makes DocOps successful, creating a relationship of trust between an organization and its clients. As a result, people recommend the business and come back for enhancements or other products or services.

This article describes how automation and people work together to produce high-quality documentation quickly through the lifecycle. It demonstrates how technology and teamwork come together in DocOps by leveraging their strengths to and running operations efficiently, in parallel, optimizing DocOps top three benefits:

  • Collaborative authoring: Working with multiple authors, editors, and managers on documents in various lifecycle stages.
  • Breaking down silos: Coordinating different departments and systems to prevent duplication of work and promote information understanding upon receiving it the first time.
  • Handling customer feedback rapidly: Ensuring customers can resolve issues quickly, the organization responds to comments nearly immediately, and irrelevant information does not interfere with the relationship between the organization and the customer.

How to blend automation and teamwork in DocOps

Blending automation and teamwork, for good Doc-Ops, requires a broad understanding of a software platform's strengths and where humans need to intervene. In general, automation takes routine administrative tasks, like notifying people about the next steps, sorting and retrieving documentation according to a set schema, or limiting content readership to be more relevant to a group of people.

Humans need to come into DocOps for higher-level administration tasks. They need to oversee the DocOps flow, redirect documentation, determine how to produce relevant content, monitor how customers use that content and adjust processes or update information appropriately. Since each content lifecycle stage mixes monotonous and more abstract tasks, automation continuously combines with human labor.

An example

For example, at the NWEA, team members worked on a software application that assessed primary and secondary student aptitude and achievement. Since development happened iteratively and the software frequently changed, documentation about any changes needed to occur often.

The manager of the development team made use of a wiki to communicate software installation and troubleshooting updates. In addition, she oversaw and assigned roles to update the documentation.

I became responsible for maintaining the information about the test-taker tool used to test, fix, and enhance the software under development. I would learn about changes to the test-taking utility, review any comments from other team members, and update the information to be current as needed. In performing my DocOps tasks well, the team relied on this wiki page, which I edited, to use the test-taker tool for their development and testing tasks.

The NWEA wiki automated and centralized information distribution and retrieval across the team. In my role, I monitored and continuously updated the text as regularly as needed. Combining my manager's DocOps planning and building out the wiki, my writing and tracking the test-taker tool content, and transparent processes around when, where, and how to find information meant that new development on the main software application ran smoother, speeding up product development.

Combining technology and teamwork to optimize three DocOps benefits

DocOps combines technology and collaboration to adapt to changing customer and organizational needs. Before DocOps and agile methodology, documentation followed a linear type of development called a waterfall approach. In this system, each step of the content lifecycle happens in sequence, usually requiring permission from someone to go to the next step. 

A good DocOps approach counters the disadvantages of the waterfall method. Content stages can be done simultaneously, in parallel, through collaboration and continuous improvement. 

This advantage means that a software platform can build, release, and track different documents under the same context at the same time. Also, a team member can simultaneously work on writing content. At the same time, another person reviews other documents about the same subject while a manager updates the taxonomy or hierarchical structure organizing the documentation.

The simultaneous execution of DocOps tasks results in a quicker turnaround time to produce quality content and a smoother interaction between customers and supporting materials or representatives providing help. With this concept of fluidity in mind, we demonstrate how to meld technology and teamwork, to optimize the top three DocOps benefits: collaborative authoring, breaking down silos, and handling customer feedback rapidly.

Collaborative authoring

Collaborative authoring depends on an organization's plans to clearly know the publication status of multiple documents in a system, who needs to do the following steps, when, and how. First, managers plan the overall content flow across the organization and consult their team members. 

A DocOps platform tracks multiple documents at various publication stages and reports status to people quickly. Once workers in an organization understand their roles in collaborative authoring and the processes around different content phases, employees can get their work done using the publication status reported by the system.

For example, the DocOps platform provided by KnowledgeOwl contains all published articles automatically changes the publication status to "Needs Review" to refresh older documentation. So, when writers run a report on publishing status, they can see, from the DocOps system, which knowledge base articles they need to make ready to publish, which ones require their edits, and which ones require updates. 

Based on established processes, roles, and guidance from managers, writers can plan their work accordingly by retrieving a publication status report and working on documentation. Multiple writers can work on document files about the same content, providing customers the most current information to support them quickly. Simultaneously, managers can monitor collaborative authoring and make changes to the process as necessary.

Breaking down silos

Misunderstanding among company divisions about processes, troubleshooting products, and what a customer wants hinders DocOps. As a result, workers and customers may not know where to look for documentation, get an appropriate response to their questions, or get misinformation.

Categorizing and standardizing documentation across an organization breaks down silos by keeping relevant documentation together and providing a familiar business context when communicating information. First, managers must agree on a formal category structure or taxonomy and when and how to create and use such categories. This process involves consulting documentation stakeholders such as customers and other team members.

Upon getting guidance on how and when to use categories, writers can use a DocOps system like KnowledgeOwl to categorize their articles. Once the organization releases the documentation, the system can notify readers interested in specific topics, and other team members can update the documentation with new sub-topics. Assigned roles must monitor how DocOps processes, related to categorization, help the business.

Since the system can track multiple categories for multiple documents, a team can categorize articles in different publication stages. At the same time, a DocOps system makes specific document types available to reader groups, depending on the category.

The combination of DocOps technology and teamwork makes it easier for readers to retrieve more relevant content to their questions or issues.

Handling customer feedback rapidly

While customers give feedback to released documentation, handling this feedback needs to happen throughout the content lifecycle. For more complicated issues, customer feedback needs to translate to tickets, routed to the correct resource, whether automatically, 24/7, or to the appropriate team/s in the organization. In addition, DocOps technology and team members need to cull malicious and inappropriate comments so that customers and staff members see only relevant information.

Managers need to have a DocOps plan to handle and prioritize customer feedback. They also need to set up a periodic review of how well the organization addresses customer comments.

A DocOps platform, like the one created by KnowledgeOwl, provides an easy-to-use and intelligent feedback form that allows customers to submit their issues. Such a form links customers to self-service online reference as it addresses their problems. The system also limits the feedback to a user group, reducing the chances for inappropriate contact form usage.  

Should a ticket be created, the DocOps platform adds information about the person's search with a screenshot, providing information for a ticket. In addition, system integration transfers ticketing information to another application that an organization uses.

To make the best use of such a system, team members need to have clear roles on how and when they process or monitor customer feedback forms. Also, team members need processes around building and using such a feedback form. Blending DocOps automation with collaboration well handles multiple customers and multiple tickets efficiently and simultaneously.

Final remarks 

Effectively combining technology and collaboration between team members gives DocOps its power to remain relevant and valuable to an organization and its customers. DocOps covers the continuous content lifecycle: planning, writing, building, testing, releasing, and analyzing documentation. Like the boys in the boat, with a speedy hull and their oars in sync, well-executed DocOps moves documentation production along with a well-defined flow.

About the author
Michelle Knight
Michelle Knight

Michelle has a diverse background in software testing, quality assurance, library and information science, which support growing professionals, information management, and technology learning. Michelle lived in a floating home in Portland, Oregon, and now is in a different neighborhood with a pizza oven in the garage. She spends her free time with her husband Scott and an adopted husky mix, Taffy. You can learn more about her on LinkedIn or her website writing portfolio.

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