Friday, April 15, 2005

Changing my thinking about documents

I just returned from an epic journey to participate in a conference on CMS. Scheduled to fly out of Denver during the middle of a blizzard, I arrived in Baltimore at 1 a.m. a day and a half later. I still haven’t caught up on my sleep, so this entry may be a little foggy.

There was a comment at the conference that really made an impression on me, “we need to rethink the concept of a document.” The author was discussing XML and making the point that instead of thinking in terms of a document, we need to think in terms of developing reusable components. In the past the goal was the document, not the content itself and how it was going to be used. There was one statistic that 90% of all content gets reused.

Technology and the internet are changing the way people use information. The ability to easily search and find the needed information is as important as the content. Short summaries or in document navigation facilitate use. Reusing content for the Web or a variety of print products has huge value gains for organizations.

For my organization, the gold standard has been the final technical report which can range from 100-1000 pages. We consider this to be our primary knowledge product and go through great pains to ensure that the documents are complete and each section receives the same level of effort. As a project manager, I always wanted to ensure that important knowledge was not lost. However, in producing these large documents, was knowledge lost because it was too difficult to find the small nugget of information that was needed? Is there a way to “chunk out these documents” to make it easier to find the needed information? Does the time it take to produce these make them obselete? We recently heard from our customers that they often get interim results in papers and presentations, by the time the report gets out it's old news.

I'll think more about this question after I get some sleep.


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