Living Documents for Internal Collaboration at ILIN
The situation before Layers
Environment with intense exchange of knowledge making work in distributed project teams fairly complex and difficult
High effort on work synchronisation due to many conflicting document versions
There is an intense exchange of knowledge between researchers, research assistants, master and bachelor students working together at the Institute for Learning and Innovation in Networks (ILIN) at Karlsruhe University of Applied Science. Before Learning Layers most of the time methods like face-to-face meetings, conference calls, and email exchange / file exchange were used.
In a distributed team with different schedules working on different research projects it is often a challenge to find a common time for meetings, to synchronise each other about the status of work and to work together on documents in particular if they are of confidential nature.
The synchronisation often happened via emails, and files were shared via separate network drives which also led to versioning conflicts that required for additional synchronization efforts. Plus if new members joined the ILIN the email conversation around the files in the network drive was not available to them and thus information that was necessary to describe the files or file structure was missing.
Additionally there was no documentation for the new members in terms of onboarding for the work processes and technologies used at the ILIN.
What Layers did
Maturing the tool by internal usage within the institute first
Focus on collaborative creation of documents for work process documentation and training supporting group work and discussions
Single platform for instant exchange
Faster turnaround as single master version avoids versioning conflicts and thus need for any synchronisation
In the early phases of the Learning Layers research project the decision was made to test LivingDocuments also internally by a group of about ten researchers and research assistants. Introducing the tool internally on the one hand gave the opportunity to gather feedback about it early on, and thus further mature the tool before deploying it for other user groups, on the other hand it gave the opportunity to solve the aforementioned knowledge exchange challenges within the institute.
One of the early opportunities was the collaborative creation of documents that provide help with work processes, for example through documented hints provided by other employees based on their experience (e.g., as specific case examples) when onboarding new employees or to organize teamwork in general.
Further than that training material for issuing interviews, setting up software infrastructures, and organising processes outside of work were set up and refined by the team.
Through sub documents some topics could be broken down into more specific sub documents. This allowed more detailed information about for instance the onboarding material whilst also having a place to discuss topics on a more general level in the parent document.
Furthermore, through LivingDocuments handling confidential information could now be performed collaboratively on a single exchange platform without the need for other communication channels providing context in terms of descriptions and discussions. As within LivingDocuments there is only one single version considered to be the current state of a document, any versioning issues are now just appearing if other communication channels are used. This reduces the synchronisation overhead and allows more efficient communication in the team.
The situation after Layers
Transparent document generation process sharing with users and groups instead of network drive file exchange
Real-time synchronous and asynchronous work process for distributed teams supported by automatic notifications about changes based on configurable subscriptions
Faster agreement cycles fostering improved output of new and modified documentations in support of many different work processes
Single streamlined information exchange channel and main system for confidential information exchange
With LivingDocuments now in place the process of knowledge exchange within the institute is more transparent since LivingDocuments features support corresponding processes.
It is now the main system for exchanging confidential information within the institute plus it allows to provide the contextual discussions around the shared information. Through the fine-grained sharing options it enables sharing documents with users and predefined groups. Hence it replaced the network drive file exchange that was used before.
Working together in real-time synchronously or asynchronously in distributed teams allows creation/modification of documents without additional emails by the editor for synchronising about the current state of work. Besides that also the discussion around documents is collaboratively and available in real-time supporting faster agreement cycles for the distributed team.
Others that are not that often in the system can subscribe to content changes in order to stay informed about the activities to topics they are interested in.
These notifications are generated automatically and thus enhancing productivity because no one needs to write additional emails manually.
Through LivingDocuments there are now onboarding documents available internally for new ILIN members, trainings about software, and performing interviews, as well as work process related material which can help all the institute members, e.g. applying for holidays, getting office supplies, recording work-time, purchasing equipment, using software, tips for business trips and internal news. It is kept up-to-date but certainly the facilitation of the process of updating the documents could be enhanced by outdatedness and relevancy indicators. The latter are current research efforts performed by the institute.
The LivingDocuments platform has proven to avoid cluttered information exchange channels like before and hence will be certainly used beyond the project. It is also planned to develop it further.
Impact that Layers created
Changed learning practices
After introducing LivingDocuments there are significantly less meetings scheduled for either work synchronisation or collaborative work on documentation. Also the amount of email conversations has been lowered.
As there is only one single document as current state any confusions by conflicting document versions are avoided.
The platform is meanwhile used as the one single point of access for confidential information exchange.
People are working on the documents whenever it fits best to their schedule while they and even others can easily stay up-to-date due to their individual configurations for automatic notifications.
As an outcome of the deployment of LivingDocuments within ILIN any onboarding material is now easily accessible and can be maintained more easily by the team.
Links to other sections
- Martin Bachl (HsKA)
- Zahra Grosser (HsKA)
- Christine Kunzmann (PONT)
- Andreas Schmidt (HsKA)
- David Zaki (HsKA)