Enhance Documentation with Video

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    One way to make yourself indispensable and endear yourself to your boss and coworkers is to tackle documentation projects for tasks, procedures, processes and the like. Because of time constraints, unless a dedicated staff person can fulfill a wide variety of documentation needs, those are the projects that get discussed, sometimes are started, and often are never finished. Once finished, they are even more rarely updated, unless an intern is lucky enough to receive that assignment, at which time he or she will need lots of time, having just joined the organization and having none of the knowledge safely stored away in colleagues’ heads.

    Finding information on how to prepare, structure and present documentation, for both informal and more formal projects, isn’t difficult. Much of it falls under skill sets and job descriptions for business analysts or project managers. Traditionally, most of this documentation consists of lots and lots of text documents, sometimes accompanied by Visio charts, photos or other graphical representations.

    Less frequently used is video documentation, but adding this as a way to create these records can potentially get the work done much more quickly and thoroughly.

    Consider that in your organization, you may already have videos that were shot for other purposes. If you are not sure if this is the case, the marketing department is a good place to start. If your company maintains video libraries for its websites, YouTube channels, marketing and sales departments, look at them with new eyes. Could they be used as-is, or supplemented, to create useful documentations and how-tos?

    If your organization is using a process documentation tool like SweetProcess (lucky you), maximize its usefulness by adding video clips to existing documents. Also consider that the speed of creating videos of processes will allow you to document newer and smaller processes that may have never been added to the “to document” list, but eat up large amounts of time and resources for training and retraining.

    The New York Times Bits blog recently profiled Panopto, which attempts to make video documentation of work processes more useful by applying a search engine feature. The company uses voice recognition or human transcriptionists in India (client’s choice) to help users find what they need within the video, and adds related slides and other elements to its presentation of the results. The company uses the “appeal to fear,” says CTO Eric Burns in the article, citing the common loss of knowledge when employees leave the company.

    On the Big Men on Content blog, Lee Dallas wrote an interesting post about how he used video documentation to capture a large amount of information about all the projects he had been working on before leaving his position as a document management architect at Delta Air Lines. His efforts were made before YouTube had made video sharing a daily event for people, but he still looks back proudly at the way he and his colleagues were able to preserve much more than just “how-tos.” They also preserved the “why” behind decision-making:

    I covered everything from why we named docbases after planets, how certain attributes in the data model make cross system data flows auditable even though no one was asking yet and yes even the bad ideas that never went away.

    Besides being incredibly cathartic for me the team was hopefully able to avoid some of the mistakes I made. I was able to give them insight into why I made certain design decisions. Project documentation often only describes the final form. Even iterative methodologies don’t do a good job of preserving the why behind a design point. Both technical and political motivations drive architecture but we seldom if ever capture things like, “the new VP came from an XYZ technology shop so that became a standard without a formal selection process” or that “all of the architecture templates originated at Citibank so finance metaphors are not in the docs for a reason and can be ignored.”

    Later employees made it a point to let Dallas know that they did indeed refer to his documentation videos in order to continue work on company projects without starting from scratch.

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