Incorporating Feedback into the Documentation: The DCM Cookbook Project

I know it's been a while since we posted to our blog. We've had a very exciting and extremely busy summer, watching how the Beta 2 and RC releases have been received by customers - and seeing our Configuration Manager library getting more substantial every day with additional details, revisions, clarifications, supporting graphics, and incorporating all the useful feedback we've had from customers.


Sometimes that feedback comes from the beta newsgroups on the Connect site (and not just the Documentation newsgroup - we monitor and participate in all the newsgroups to identify areas that might need additional documentation). Other times it comes direct from our TAP customers and Microsoft support staff while they are deploying the pre-release versions. We also get email from the alias, and feedback from the community channels. We continue to work closely with the product group and encourage them to use the documentation, so that if they find something that is unclear or they suspect is incorrect, they let us know.


It's an iterative process, and we very much welcome feedback and suggestions so that we can incorporate them whenever possible. For example, we've been hearing how you want more examples and scenarios to help you apply the technology to your own environment.


One area in which we've incorporated this is the authoring feature in desired configuration management. As a new feature, some of the concepts and terminology behind desired configuration management can initially prove quite challenging. The authoring wizards seem very simply on the surface, until you try to create your first configuration item. Even with extensive F1 help for each option, it can sometimes be difficult to see the wood for the trees and actually create the result you wanted.


For some customers using desired configuration management, this won't be a problem because they won't be authoring themselves. They might rely on developers to author externally in DCM Digest (or SML) and simply import it, or they might be using the best practices supplied by vendors in Configuration Packs (available at release). However, some customers will want to create their own configuration items, and they will want enough authoring know-how to modify the configuration items that they import.


We already had a step-by-step guide for authoring each type of configuration item, but we wanted to take this further, and the "DCM Cookbook" project was born. The feature writers (Rob Stack, Jim Bradbury, and myself) teamed up with a couple of trusty friends from Customer Support Services (CSS) to brainstorm how we could best bridge this gap to help customers ramp up on the authoring side. We also had a secondary goal, which was to encourage customers to create their own configuration items that helped them manage their networks, and then share these with other customers.


Our recommended solution was additional documentation on how to author some simple but useful configuration items, and invite customers to provide their own. The PM thought it was a great idea and it also got backing from our manager (Steve Kaczmarek) because it met these two requirements:


  • It provided step-by-step authoring instructions, which are useful if you're new to the desired configuration management feature, want to create your own configuration items, and learn best by examples.

  • It provided useful ad-hoc configuration items that can be added to the administrator's toolkit. Sometimes, the small things like checking a specific registry key is all you need to accomplish a task. These simple configuration items can fulfill this purpose that the more extensive configuration items provided with Configuration Packs are not designed to address.


So, the "DCM Cookbook" became an additional technical reference topic, with the idea of including a few "recipes" to start the ball rolling. We wanted to see if the additional examples proved useful, and whether they inspired administrators to write in with their own configuration items that we could then look to include with future documentation releases.


But it’s no good searching for a topic called “The DCM Cookbook”.  The official topic title is somewhat more prosaic, but more descriptively titled "Step-by-Step Sample Configuration Items for Desired Configuration Management" and the current samples include the following:

  • Checking for the presence of the hidden file Skpswi.dat (in case savvy but unauthorized users are using this file to avoid software inventory)

  • Checking that the firewall is enabled for Windows XP and Vista

  • Checking the registry for client installation properties


In the main topic, we ask customers to send us their own configuration items if they would like them included, using our e-mail address.  We haven't heard from anybody yet, but I guess it's early days.


If you like the DCM Cookbook idea and have suggestions for new recipes, let the doc team know now for consideration for the November (and additional) doc release. Of course, this doesn't exclude you from also sharing your configuration items with the community. It simply offers another way of sharing your knowledge and experience with other administrators to help ensure that the documentation offers relevant, useful examples.


This is just one example of how we're constantly looking for ways to improve the Configuration Manager library, and provide the documentation you need to be successful. I think it's going to be interesting to see if administrators find this DCM Cookbook approach useful and contribute their own examples to help other administrators. Let me know what you think!


And if you have further suggestions or feedback about the Configuration Manager library to date, on any feature, we're always happy to hear from you.




- Carol Bailey


This posting is provided “AS IS” with no warranties and confers no rights.

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