Why Manufacturing Product and Process Documentation is So Hard

Why it's important to get collaboration right for effective documentation

Collaboration is an essential part of the creation and delivery of product documentation. But it is also fraught with inefficiencies which have negative downstream impacts

Mike Hibberd
May 23, 2022

Effective collaboration between teams and team members is vital to successfully creating and distributing assets which communicate everything which needs to be communicated about your products. Explaining to key stakeholders how products are put together, how they function, how they’re intended to be used requires a range of employees, from various departments and ranks, to have input into content requirements, revisions, and approval.

Collaboration can be as difficult as it is important and when it doesn’t work smoothly there will be problems. Research carried for our Product Communication 2022 report showed that 97% of manufacturing firms have suffered from errors or delays as a result of difficulty collaborating on documentation for products and processes.

The research revealed that manufacturing firms are challenged in particular by a fragmented approach to collaboration, and increasingly distributed workforces and ecosystems.

Too many communication channels

Almost three quarters of respondents reported that their company typically uses multiple channels, including email, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and other voice or video calling solutions to manage collaboration, review, and to gather feedback on product content.

The use of multiple channels appears to have worrying consequences. 75% of respondents agreed that, because collaboration happens across multiple channels, it can be easy to miss feedback on important documentation and content.Even when feedback is accurately captured, it can be a slow process, with 72% of respondents saying that it takes a long time for feedback to be captured and collated across different channels.

All of which provides important context to the complaint that the collaborative process can be source of damaging bottlenecks in Product Communication workflows.

Distributed and remote working is taking hold

These collaborative challenges are set against a backdrop of increasingly distributed working – both within the organization and across the ecosystem – and challenges associated with departmental interaction.

Over 77% of respondents agreed that it is difficult for different disciplines, such as engineering and marketing, to work together on documentation and content. It was also notable that there was a significant difference in the understanding of this problem at the top of the organization. While 84% of senior managers felt this to be the case, only 74% leadership-level respondents agreed.

Even where co-operation is not challenged by departmental differences, physical distance must be factored into the problem.

74% of respondents said that teams and team members who need to work together regularly are distributed across a number of sites, which places even more importance on the approach taken to channels used for collaboration, review, and feedback.

The same is true for the many instances in which companies depend on external partners or suppliers. Manufacturing is not always owned and executed end-to-end by the company that takes the product to market. 78% of organizations represented in the survey depend on third parties for one or more of product design, sub-component supply, fabrication, and maintenance. At each of these stages in the process, effective Product Communication is essential to efficiency and success.

And, of course, no snapshot of the workplace at the beginning of 2022 can ignore the impact of the recent pandemic. 71% of respondents agreed that team members had been working remotely more frequently in the past two years than prior to the pandemic.

Working better together

The challenges associated with collaboration in Product Communication are clearly rooted in efficiency. Fragmentation in the channels used to communicate and gather feedback and the time absorbed during the collaborative parts of the process are at the heart of the problem. Distributed ecosystems and remote working are a fact of life for manufacturing companies, and the difficulties some may face in cross-departmental co-working are part of a wider cultural set-up.

One practical step for which respondents appear enthusiastic is to try and centralize the collaborative process, reducing the number of applications and challenges involved, which could help mitigate problems like missed feedback and the delays and errors that are likely to ensue.

68% of respondents said they believed it would be beneficial if all documentation collaboration happened within a single application. Enthusiasm for this was strongest among senior managers and company leaders, who are more likely to have company-wide performance and efficiency in mind.

About the author
Mike Hibberd
VP Marketing

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