The biggest challenges involved in creating product documentation

Mike Hibberd, VP of Marketing

Creating any kind of product or process documentation for internal or external use is time-consuming and complex – often to the point where the task is unwelcome. Typically it requires input from multiple employees across a range of departments to gather data and content before the actual creative process can even begin. And when it’s complete, there may be several rounds of collaborative feedback and rework before the content is approved for publication.

As arduous as it may be for those involved, this is more than just an operational headache. The results of our Product Communication 2022 survey suggest that, in many cases, sub-optimal documentation creation workflows are yielding serious downstream problems.

In fact over 95% of manufacturing industry professionals surveyed said that projects or products at their company had been impacted errors or delays as a result of inefficient workflows for the creation of critical product documentation.

Lack of autonomy is a problem

Delays and errors are expensive. So it is essential that manufacturing companies which are experiencing these problems uncover and understand the drivers behind these workflow problems, so they can be addressed.

Responses suggest a lack of autonomy among content creators – that input gathering stage – may be a significant issue. One in three respondents (36%) said content creation bottlenecks stemmed from too many people being involved the process, and from document creators lacking the skills or software to be able to work with 3D CAD models (33%), which are often the basis of product visualizations.

Meanwhile, 34% of respondents highlighted another problem, namely that software applications used to create documentation are not suited to the task. With Microsoft Word and Powerpoint, and their Google equivalents, among the most widely used creation applications, this is perhaps not surprising.

More than one in four cited a closely connected workflow issue as another contributory factor: the time taken to get 3D model visualizations from engineers who do have the skills and 3D CAD software to create them.

Checking for Updates

Content creation is an ongoing process, with increasingly rapid product evolution a driving factor behind the need for regular updates and rework. When the core product model changes, existing documentation becomes outdated, leading to a host of negative consequences according to respondents, including delayed product launches, manufacturing errors, delayed or missed sales, product wastage, and downtime.

What does good look like?

The factors driving content creationbottlenecks, and the existence of sub-optimal workflows, allow for an insight into what a better world might look like for these companies. Of respondents who expressed a view:

  • 66% said it would be beneficial  if all content creators could work directly with 3D models
  • 64% said it would be beneficial  if there was a single application used to create all product content
  • 67% said it would be beneficial  if all product documentation and content containing visualizations of 3D models updated dynamically whenever core models changed

In all instances, fewer than four per cent of respondents said these capabilities were already in place.