It’s always a little bit challenging to meet with your users face-to-face. It’s one thing to sit in your own office and create a product thinking that you understand what your users want. And it’s entirely different experience to meet your users and see how your product is actually being used.
It’s not necessarily that they like everything in the software. You cannot be sure they actually use all nice (as you think about them) features that you did. Nobody can guarantee that you won’t be criticized for the improvements (as you think about them) you added to the latest release.
But this is the time when you should to put your ego aside and – if you really care about your customers and want to make their work easier – listen and make notes. Plus meeting with your users face-to-face is a perfect opportunity to show how else they can benefit from your product. It’s an opportunity to share your plans for the future, showcase how your product is used by other customers, demonstrate how to use features they didn’t know about, and so on.
This is why we are doing our DITAToo User Days. They help us constantly improve our DITAToo DITA CMS and offer solutions that meet the growing needs of our users.
This time the User Day took place in Nijmegen, the oldest city in The Netherlands. The event was organized by iDTP, our authorized European representative and implementation/training partner. The User Day was hosted by our customer Planon Software that kindly provided a venue where our users from The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and even India (online) gathered. (In Europe, we also have customers in Switzerland, France, Austria, and England, but not all of them could attend due to the busy schedule.) On our end, it was our CTO and myself.
Here is an overview of what we had there.
The User Day began with a case study presented by Planon Software. Part of their team is based in The Netherlands, while part of the team is located in India. The Indian team joined us through the video conferencing call. Both the Dutch and Indian teams have access to the central DITAToo content repository.
Before moving to DITA, Planon used to create documentation in MS Word and had hard time trying to share documents across two different departments, achieve the consistent look-and-feel for the product documentation, and manage translations. By the way, one of the features they like in DITAToo is translation management because it lets them quickly see what is already translated, which translations are still missing, and which translations should be updated due to changes in the source (English) content.
Then we did a preview of two modules that will be officially released soon: Workflow Manager and Baseline Manager.
Workflow Manager allows you to:
Baseline Manager lets you create a snapshot of a project in the current state and use this snapshot at any time in the future. Imagine that you need to send a project for translation. But you need to keep working on the content while it’s being translated because your company is working on a new release of the product. A problem is that when you get the project from the translation agency, say, 2 weeks later, it won’t be the same project as it is now.
With Baselines Manager, you can create a baseline and then keep working on the content. When you get the translated project, you say to DITAToo that you are uploading the translation to the baseline created 2 weeks ago rather than to the current state of the project.
You can create as many baselines for a project as you need. You can publish, send for translation, or download a specific baseline.
We showed how we’ve integrated DITAToo with an online knowledge base for one of our customers and used Workflow Manager and Baseline Manager for this integration. The customer can now switch an individual topic or an entire project to a certain state, and this will trigger DITAToo to publish the content to the customer’s online knowledge base in HTML. Topic metadata stored in prolog will be also uploaded and converted to the metadata required by the knowledge base. The customer can edit the prolog metadata either in their DITA editor or by using the user-intuitive Metadata Editor that we’ve created specifically for them.
Translations can be also uploaded from DITAToo to the knowledge base and associated with the English source.
We’ve shared our vision and plan for the future development of DITAToo. When DITAToo was born, we were targeting primarily small teams (up to 5 authors). Today, DITAToo is also used by bigger teams. It’s quite obvious that a team with 10+ writers has more complex requirements than a team of 5 writers. To cover the needs of various types of customers, we decided to split DITAToo into two independent products:
This approach will help us cover the needs of both small teams with a limited budget and large publication departments.
PassporToo is a brand new product that will be officially announced in upcoming weeks. As a teaser, I’ll just tell you that it lets you automatically assemble and publish requirements documents, such as software or project specifications, cost estimate, test cases, release notes, proposals, and so on.
We ended this amazing day with an open discussion where all our users could share their experience with using DITAToo DITA CMS, tell us what they would like to see in future releases, explain how they are using various features in real-life scenarios, and ask questions.
This was a live session that I personally enjoyed a lot. Some real-life use cases of actual usage of some features were a little bit unexpected and even more interesting than we, as developers, originally thought. For example, when we were developing the tagging feature (it allows you to assign tags to projects and then filter projects by tags as well as use tags as a sort of shortcut substitute for metadata), we thought that users will use tags mainly for filtering projects by tags and searching topics. It’s turned out that there are two main use cases for tags in real-life: for filtering projects and… a substitute for workflow stages. Our users like to create tags, like Needs Review, Approved, or Needs Translation, and then they use the Search by Tags feature to find topics in a specific “state”.
After the Workflow Manager will be released, this use case won’t make sense any longer which means that tags will be primarily used for filtering projects. This makes us think about ways to optimize tags for this scenario.
It was a great day, as you can see. We’ve also brought some Middle East sweets that everyone liked! I was especially happy to see how our users from different companies were socializing and exchanging contacts between the sessions – it’s always great to help people connect with each other, regardless of whether or not it’s about our products.
We have now many sheets with notes that we are going to discuss internally in the next few days and incorporate them into our road map. It was a really valuable feedback.
Again, thank to everyone who’s been there. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!
Looking forward to meeting you soon!
Dank u wel en tot ziens!