How to Master Product Information Using a CCMS

April 11, 2024
image shows people writing product information

Product information is essential for any company that creates and sells a product, including those in manufacturing, software, and life sciences. It helps customers understand how products are built, implemented, and used on a daily basis. This information must be accurate and up to date at all times, an effort that can be challenging at the best of times, especially if you are managing that content through a mixture of manual work and disjointed technology.

A component content management system (CCMS) can help you establish an efficient product information practice that can evolve as your processes evolve. But before implementing one, you need to define your production information strategy. With a well-defined strategy, you will be able to use your CCMS effectively.

So, let’s examine how you define your strategy and align it with the value that a CCMS brings.

Get started with Paligo

Paligo is built to meet the most demanding requirements, with plans made for any company from the growing SMB to the large Enterprise.

Book a demo

The Need for a New Way to Manage Product Information

If you’ve been working on a documentation team, you know that the tools and processes for managing product information have been mixed. Information is manually managed using Word processing systems like Microsoft Word or Google Docs and stored in file shares, network drives, or document management systems like SharePoint.

These are separate documents created and updated by technical writers and distributed to end-users through various methods, including email, customer portals, or printed copies. Maintaining them is time-consuming, prone to errors, and inefficient in terms of updating and version control. And let’s not even get started on collaboration. Product information isn’t written by one person alone. It’s a collaborative process that is inhibited by traditional methods.

As the volume of content grows, a new approach is needed that centralizes control and makes collaboration and version management more efficient. We’re not talking about traditional document or content management systems, though, which don’t provide the capabilities to ensure product information is consistent, accurate, and scalable.

A component content management system can help here, but you must create the right processes for efficiency and scalability. You need to assess your current product information management processes and understand how to evolve them.

image shows person creating product information

Defining a New Process

A few things need to happen to create a product information strategy that will help your team work together.

Content Audit and Cleanup

Start with a thorough audit of your current product information. You can do this using a spreadsheet, tracking each document on a separate row and including information such as name, description, location stored, date created, date last updated, product covered, writer(s), reviewers, when the product was last updated, link to the product roadmap, and anything else important to know about the document.

Once your audit is complete, identify redundant or outdated content. Do you have product documentation for a product that is no longer sold? Do you have multiple document versions and aren’t sure which one is the most recent? Is a document out of date with the product? Before you take the next step, you must thoroughly clean your existing product documentation.

We often recommend performing a content audit before migrating your content from your previous system to Paligo because inevitably this will lessen the amount of content needing to be moved. If you’ve been meaning to clean out your content, this is the perfect opportunity.

Content Strategy Development

Once your existing product information is reviewed and cleaned, you should be left with a list of documentation you need to manage and a list to create. Whether the content is outdated or inaccurate, you need to include it in your new content strategy so that it can be managed properly going forward.

There are a few steps to developing a content strategy for your product information. The first is to establish content standards and guidelines for content creation and organization. This includes the following tasks:

  • Develop a taxonomy and classification scheme for product information.
  • Define content types, structures, and metadata requirements.
  • Outline the process to identify areas of content reuse and how that reuse will happen.
  • Create templates and style guides for consistent content creation.
  • Document publishing channels and how the documentation will adapt (if required) to each channel.
  • Outline localization and internationalization standards for content intended for global audiences, including translations and legal requirements.

Along with these standards and guidelines, you also need to identify the processes related to content review, approval, and publishing:

  • How will the technical writers work together to write and update product information?
  • What does the review process look like? Who is involved in the review? Will they provide comments, suggest changes, or both?
  • Who finally approves of each piece of content?
  • How is the product information published to each channel?
  • How will you know when the content needs to be updated or retired?

Your content strategy should be technology-agnostic. However, you must also understand how that strategy maps to your CCMS because not all CCMSs are identical. Once you identify the system you will use, take the time to understand how your processes align with its capabilities. You might see ways to improve your processes further using functionality in the CCMS, so make sure you don’t skip this part.

Reviews on G2

Top rated on G2.

See reviews

Working with Your New CCMS

By now, you have mapped out your content strategy and selected the component content management system that will implement its core processes. Now, focus your attention on using the CCMS. Let’s look at some important things to do to get started and key capabilities to ensure product information is managed properly on an ongoing basis.

Adding Content to CCMS

The first part of using a CCMS is, of course, authoring content. Following a structured content model can be challenging at first because it’s a different way to author content than using Word. Content is broken down into components – discrete sections or topics – that cover specific information related to the product. Each module is created independently and doesn’t rely on content created in another component to make sense. You then put these components together to create a complete document.

Andrea Citta, VP of Operations for Paligo, wrote a great piece on authoring structured content for complex documentation. He explained the need for structured content this way:

The problem is that documents exist across multiple variants, which can make it difficult to keep track of everything. Projects may have multiple versions of a product that must be documented, or multiple output formats. Not to mention, documentation targeted toward various types of audiences. There are even more dimensions, such as operating systems or languages, that must be considered when documenting a project.

Writing content using a structured authoring model allows multiple writers to work on different sections simultaneously. Each component undergoes its own review and approval process, speeding up the entire process of creating or updating content.

Componentizing content also enables content reuse. For example, you need to create a set of product information for a new product: a user manual, implementation guide, and troubleshooting guide for support teams. Each document is different, yet there are common parts, such as an introduction to the product, a list of features, or a set of frequently asked questions.

By creating the content following a structured content model, writers can reuse the portions that are the same, reducing the time required to create the document but, more importantly, ensuring the information is accurate and consistent across the product information. Learn more about the benefits of structured authoring.

Managing Localization and Translation

Another benefit of a CCMS is its support for localization and translation. Consider an organization that sells a product to multiple countries, but due to legal requirements, it has to name the product differently for some countries. Do they create multiple versions of its product information and go through the process of ensuring all versions are maintained consistently?

An alternative is to leverage a CCMS’s features that support using variables and filters. In this example, you can use a variable to represent the product name so that when you publish the documentation, you can select which value to print. Cultural adaptation, data and time formats, currency symbols, and legal requirements all necessitate adjustments to product information. Variables and filters can help you add or remove specific components or topics from the final version of a published document.

Translations are also faster because you can send it to translation before the entire product document is completed. A CCMS integrates with translation providers (or provides built-in translation capabilities), making it easier to send content for translation and return it to the system.

For more information on managing translations in a CCMS, check out Challenges and Solutions in Global Information Architecture.

From Adding Content to Managing Changes

Products get new features, bugs and enhancements are performed regularly, new documentation is required, and so on. Sometimes, your documentation may differ due to localization or country-specific requirements. Or you’re ready to try a new design or style for your documentation.

A CCMS provides version management to help you deal with these different needs. The best way to understand how is to provide some examples.

Your product team has been developing a new feature for your product, and they are almost ready to go live. As they’ve worked on the new feature, you’re working with them to document it in the implementation and user guides. But it isn’t live yet, so you don’t want these updates to go live. You can create a branch of each document and add the required changes. When the new feature finally goes live, you can merge the branches and have the new content available in the published guide.

What happens if they launch the new feature and something goes wrong? The product team needs to roll it back from the product (we’re talking about a SaaS solution in this case). Now, your product information references a feature that no longer exists. But that’s okay because you can also use versioning to roll back the changes you just made, returning to the original version and publishing the change.

Another great example of the value of version management involves translating product information. When you translate your product information, you translate a version of that content, keeping the translated versions connected to the original. If the original version gets updated, a process can be initiated to ensure the translations are updated accordingly. With versioning, tracking when and where translations need to happen is easier.

image shows woman entering product information

Don’t Forget Training and Onboarding

Getting your product documentation team to use a new tool can be difficult. People get used to their processes and find it challenging to change the way they work, even if it’s for the better. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure you train your team on how to use the CCMS to support your content processes.

Conduct workshops and hands-on sessions for authors, editors, reviewers, and administrators to ensure they understand the CCMS’s value to your product information strategy and learn to use it efficiently. Also, establish a support system for ongoing assistance and troubleshooting.
It may take time, but the value you gain in terms of productivity and scale is great, and your team will see that if you manage the change correctly.

Ready to Get Started?

A component content management system can significantly improve your product information strategy. It provides features and functionality that empower your team to create content faster, focus on content quality, and ensure that content is accurate and consistent across all documentation. It also supports the collaborative environment necessary for excellent product information.

However, you must define your strategy before your CCMS can drive efficiencies. If you follow the approach we’ve discussed, you will be well on your way to creating a content strategy that will work for your product information. And you will know how to map that strategy to the CCMS. Refining content structures, workflows, and processes will always be a work in progress, but your CCMS can evolve with you.

Let us know if you want to learn more about how a CCMS like Paligo can support product information management. We’d love to help you.

Get started with Paligo

Paligo is built to meet the most demanding requirements, with plans made for any company from the growing SMB to the large Enterprise.

Book a demo