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We troubleshoot a lot of server and network issues and follow a loose set of steps on what to do in different cases. With more and more people and responsibility, the need for standardization is needed so we don't miss something.

I know I could accomplish what I want using flowcharts, but I'd like to do something similar to a "Choose Your Own Adventure" style. I think this is pretty much the same as what support call centers seem to do.

Are there any tools to make creating such documentation easier? I'm looking for a web based approach if possible.

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Be very careful how you tread here. There's a very good article over on Joel on Software here: joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000024.html that you might want to read. The part that's relevant is about half way down, about "The Methodology". –  Mark Henderson Jan 6 '10 at 1:32
    
We have a bunch of smart people, but everyone does things a little differently. While that is fine during the troubleshooting step, we still need a way to standardize who to contact in what order and how to fill out the forms in the ticketing system. In my last job we used a dispatcher type setup that worked great, but in my current job, that is not an option. We are all dispatchers and techs on different shifts, and it gets to be a mess sometimes. –  Joseph Jan 6 '10 at 1:55

8 Answers 8

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For web based "Choose Your Own Adventure" style documentation it is hard to beat a wiki.

It is easy to have a page that looks like:

DHCP issues

Run ipconfig [help running ipconfig] and note the assigned IP address. If the IP address starts with:

  • 169.254 see [diagnosing dhcp failures]
  • 192.168 see [tracking down and reporting a rogue dhcp server]
  • 10.100.3 see [quarantined users]

If their IP address starts with x.x.x they are not having a DHCP issue, continue troubleshooting under [connectivity issues]

This sort of thing is great especially when the troubleshooting isn't necessarily linear.

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I've been doing this for my own documentation. Can I change my answer? –  pcapademic Jan 13 '10 at 10:02

Decision Trees look at lot like mindmaps. Freemind is a great tool for creating mind maps very quickly, and the maps can be easily exported to the web.

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I automate these kinds of things. Rather than writing documentation, write a well-commented (a la literate programming) script that does the detection and diagnosis (and, where possible, the resolution) of faults. If you know enough about the problem to be able to write down exactly how to find it and fix it, you know enough to be able to script the solution (if you don't know how to script, then you need to learn).

If there is something that truly cannot be checked via a program (say, you want to check if there's an aircon problem but it's a system that isn't instrumented into your management network) the script prompts the person running it and tells them exactly how to find the answer ("check the panel marked "aircon master" nearest the door of the server room, press the "fan" button twice and read the number shown under "temperature". Type that number in below, exactly as you read it (eg "27.5")").

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Our departments are broken down into too many parts for this to work since no single group has access to everything. –  Joseph Jan 6 '10 at 3:13
    
Good to see you've identified the problem, then. Writing a script to fix it might be significantly trickier, though. –  womble Jan 6 '10 at 4:33
    
You wake them up enough at 4am to fix something trivial ... they'll come around ;) –  Zypher Jan 6 '10 at 7:37
    
You'd think that, but they've gotten used to it. People will only give up power from their cold dead hands. –  Joseph Jan 6 '10 at 7:44
    
Nah,they'll just complain to your boss' boss' boss that you're not a team player. –  womble Jan 6 '10 at 7:44

The InQuira Intelligent Search product allows for the creation of decision trees - they call them "Process Wizards" in part because they include some dynamic functionality. The InQuira product is geared for call centers and includes natural language search, content management, and analytics.

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I did a lot of this stuff for project planning and management. As EricJLN mentioned, Freemind is an awesome free application that is a mind mapping tool that is great for doing easy flow charting.

Depending on what you are doing the planning for, I have never really found the flow chart helpful in much more than an overview to follow for different things. Ultimately I find myself going into more depth and detail in robust documentation and using flow charts for a kind of index.

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this could help you, when you want to create the flowcharts online and share them.

this tools lets you create something similar to flowcharts, but you can easily add references to additional resources. might be helpful to reference to other docs, scripts or ... so the conceptmaps could be used as a starting point. for advanced users it will give a rough way (the details could be solved individually) and for not so experienced users it could reference to additional info how to do things.

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Have a look at salesforce VPM: http://www.salesforce.com/platform/process/

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Vanguard Software offers a tool to do exactly this. You can create and maintain an expert system and have this lead the user through a set of questions and procedures.
For general information see http://www.vanguardsw.com/solutions/application/expert-systems/

 - Jeff 
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protected by Iain Mar 23 '12 at 9:17

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