DITA for Small Teams: Does Size Matter? Check Out This Case Study

Recently, there has been a series of discussions in LinkedIn on whether DITA can bring a return-on-investment (ROI) for small teams. Most of people participated in the discussion agreed that even teams of 1-5 writers can benefit from DITA.

I totally agree that the size of a team alone isn’t the factor that influences the ROI. To prove this, I want to share with you our experience with implementing DITA for a customer with 3 writers.

When we came there, the situation looked terrifying:

* They had 2 major product families with several products in each family. The content was shared across:
** Products within the same family
** Products in different families
** Different releases of the same products (they have to maintain parallel releases of the same product)
** Different documents for the same product (user’s guide, troubleshooting guide, configuration guide, etc.)

* They sold their products both directly under their own brand and through 4 OEM partners under partner’s brand. This means that there were 5 output templates. Each template looked completely different and had its own set of styles.

* They had to produce deliverables as PDF and online help. The information had to be filtered depending on the output format.

* They used unstructured FrameMaker. They extensively used conditional tags. Because there were 3 writers and almost no control on how tags were used, there were over 20 conditional tags in use. However, almost half of them was a duplication of the existing tags. For example, they could have several tags with a different name but used for the same purpose: productA, Product_A, Product_AOnly, and so on. There is no need to say that filtering conditional content was an error-prone process and required extensive QA.

* At some point, they lost control over the styles used in the template and they ended up with inconsistent formatting and duplicative styles.

* They couldn’t really track how the content is reused and could spend time to write stuff that already existed somewhere. The bad thing was that when they had to update it, they could easily miss a place where the reused content appeared.

As a result, to generate a documentation set that included 5 PDFs and 5 online outputs (1 for themselves and 4 for the OEM partners), could take them 4 working days. This included filtering conditional content, QAing, mapping between different templates, swapping variables, etc. Just think about it: 4 working days just to generate an output!

After we’ve implemented DITA, generation of a documentation set became a matter of a few hours. Quite impressive difference, isn’t it?

So it’s not the size that counts, but what you do with your content.

Please feel free to share your own stories too!

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