Robert N Phillips
CEO, Lasotell Pty Ltd.

In the CDIM e-newsletter, Volume 1, Issue 1, we described the benefits of consistently applying a set of documentation standards. This approach was very beneficial for two customers who came to us with this classic request: “I want to have all the processes and procedures online, as they are written and updated. I want the people responsible for work instructions to be able to update their own files. I want everyone to be able to access the files quickly, easily, and intuitively. I want the online update process to take only minutes, not hours and days. I want people to be able to print material that looks the way the author intended.”

The Design Implications section of the Information Plan led us to re-examine the alternatives to using standard Web conversion approaches for such material. The final answer was discovered in some rarely appreciated and even less understood proper ways of applying PDF files. This approach avoided needing to pay for Web experts in addition to writers. Here is a brief summary of the solution.

All the processes were identified and drawn in a “logic map”–a map that connects every process together in a logical flow without trying to show every connection between processes. The logic map is the first thing the user sees and is the entry point to a cascade of click-through diagrams or supporting text from the highest to the lowest level. For example, each logic map process is linked to its corresponding description file, which usually contains a more detailed process map. If that map shows connections to any other processes, they are also linked to their corresponding description files. Every step box in the map is linked to its corresponding procedure specification, which states what to do, and, in most cases, includes a data flow diagram of the steps. Each step in the data flow diagram is linked to its corresponding work instruction, which states how to perform the task.

The files were prepared in Visio and Word and converted to PDF, and the links and navigation bookmarks were inserted using the full Acrobat version–this is the key: they are not Word based hyperlinks. The huge time saver was discovering the Document –> Replace Pages function for importing new pages and retaining all the existing hyperlinks, bookmarks, and customised navigation from the previous version.

If the final format is accessed from a network server, the user can use all customised Acrobat navigation; if accessed via a Web environment, the browser provides the navigation backwards to previous documents. The end-user update capability was provided by giving each department or team a PDF page of their own with standard Word hyperlinks pointing to their own Word files, which were set to read-only in the nominated publication directory.

The two customers are very pleased with the end result. The development time was much shorter than they expected, and the essentially instantaneous update to Work Instructions is a win-win for management and the staff who have to maintain the instructions. Overall, this approach is fast, cost effective, easy to use, and easy to maintain. And it works in the real world! See a simple demonstration example.