At FLOSS Manuals, we have been using a method called a Book Sprint – collaborative authoring, one week at a time. In fact, Google’s “Summer of Code” project has sponsored two of these sprints. The latest was just this month for a completely open source video format called Ogg Theora. The sprint got a mention on slashdot last month.
The idea of a Book Sprint is that you can get lots of documentation written in a focused amount of time with the right team and some amount of content already in place. Gathering people in the same room when possible is extremely helpful and motivating as well. I like to think of it as using two wiki patterns – the Scaffold pattern first followed closely by the Barnraising pattern.
I often get questions about the viability and value of a book sprint in a corporate environment. Here are a couple of ideas for running a book sprint at a company.
Agile software development
In an Agile environment, the term “sprint” means a timeboxed iteration – a time period could be two weeks, or it could be three or four. You plan out the “sprint” based on the number of people you have and by correctly sizing the documentation goals for the sprint.
The term Book Sprint seems appropriate in an Agile environment. For example, plan the sprint to have the team focus entirely on doc for that iteration. That’s one company-type application.
Scenario-based documentation by Subject Matter Experts
Another company method of focused authoring that I know of is the one that IBM employs to write Red Books. A document coordinator brings in the subject matter experts, they outline the RedBook in a day, then assign chapters to each Subject Matter Expert (SME). The SMEs usually go off and write for a while, then the RedBook comes back together with the document coordinator (I think this is accurate, but please do feel free to offer more detail by commenting).
Chris Almond gave a presentation at Central Texas DITA User Group meeting last year about using wikis for RedBook authoring – his slideshow is available on slideshare.net.
Writer’s luxury accomodations – seclusion and focus with collaboration
For Book Sprints, what we do is try to get a good group of people a great place to stay for a week and write. There’s at least 4-6 weeks of pre-planning of the outline and possible content that already exists so that the sprint itself goes smoothly. Getting people to agree to audience and scope ahead of time is crucial. A book sprint basically forces documentation decisions and priorities under pressure of one week’s time – so you want to get lots of questions out of the way before the actual sprint.
We also make them fun and offer food and “after hours” activities. The fun is crucial!
I just joined the Writer’s League of Texas, and they actually charge people for writing retreats that sound an awful lot like a book sprint, except that they’re not collaborative, they’re for solo writers to get writing done in a nice, supportive environment. It’s basically a nice location with some fun planned in as well.
We have case studies and lots of planning in a Book Sprint book hosted on FLOSS Manuals at http://en.flossmanuals.net/booksprints. Also, the free sample chapter from my book talks about Book Sprints at length, see http://justwriteclick.com/book, and shows how much funding we needed for a book sprint last August that produced about 300 pages of printed PDFs and online HTML-based help.