Have you been a participant in a document review process? Have you found it to be an endless round-robin of reading through lengthy emails searching for the golden nuggets amid the background clutter of irrelevant comments or administrative remarks? Ever had the good fortune to lead a document review project where a CRM (comments resolution matrix) is used to track hundreds of inputs?
But now help for the document weary is available with a new capability hosted by Navy Warfare Development Command. NWDC just completed installation of the PleaseReview collaborative review system on its portal and is now starting to use it to develop and revise Navy doctrine.
PleaseReview is unlike any document management system you have tried before. It is as easy to use as Microsoft Word, but allows reviewers to work simultaneously on the same document and eliminates the most labor intensive aspects associated with structured document reviews.
Expediting the Document Review Process
NWDC is the executive agent for the Navy Doctrine Library System (NDLS) that is used to distribute doctrine to fleet users and manages the content of the entire Navy doctrine library.
NDLS was also developed with a capability for uploading Word documents for online review and commenting. The system was designed to maximize collaboration during the review process, and although it had been upgraded several times, it still was not very good, explained Robert Wilhelm, NWDC Publishing Manager.
“The document import process was clunky and labor-intensive requiring multiple manual entries and many steps that took days to complete. Uploading a document often took more than 15 minutes,” Wilhelm said, “and this work needed to be done at each phase of a document's review.”
So Wilhelm’s team, spearheaded by NWDC Navy Doctrine Library Program Manager Roger Webster, researched commercial off-the-shelf collaboration options to increase productivity and save time.
The solution, called PleaseReview, is a COTS product by PleaseTech Ltd.
Uploading a document now takes less than five minutes, Wilhelm explained, and requires very little additional formatting work.
“We wanted to find a capability that would expedite the document review process, to make it a lot simpler. Now stakeholders can work on the same document at the same time which increases productivity and saves time. The author can see all the comments, accepting or rejecting changes, and the software automatically merges all the accepted changes into the document.”
By making the document available for review in a secure, controlled, browser-based environment multiple participants can access the same copy of the document and work on the review simultaneously, as well as accessing it offline. In this way, PleaseReview provides distinctive collaboration features where everybody can see other users’ contributions, ensuring a more open and transparent process.
This means an end to multiple emails and attachments, version incompatibility, style and formatting issues and duplication of effort. In fact, the time spent reviewing documents has been dramatically reduced, which means the final document is completed faster, and the collaboration features result in more accurate, higher quality results, according to information provided by PleaseTech Ltd.
Using the previous system, the author had to wait for feedback from all stakeholders and then painstakingly go through each comment, cutting and pasting text for accepted changes.
“Changes had to be modified manually. It was tedious and time-consuming,” Wilhelm said. “PleaseReview displays a history of changes and comments so one critical comment is not a show-stopper. It also allows comments to be categorized so that a reviewer can filter out administrative remarks, for example, which is very useful for reviewing staffs.”
Wilhelm and Webster estimate that timelines for the review process are now cut in half to about one to three weeks, and the new software is about half the cost of the previous system to operate.
PleaseReview is a role-based system with authors, contributors and reviewers as the main players in the process. Authors upload a Word document and invite others to the review process. Comments are autolinked so reviewers can follow discussion threads easily and quickly.
Authors do not have to wait until the deadline for commenting has passed to begin adjudicating comments. Instead, reviews can be made in real-time in an energetic and innovative collaborative environment.
The system auto-generates a table of contents which displays on the left side of the screen with headings that mirror the structure of the document. Reviewers can hyperlink to topics by clicking in the table of contents or by clicking into the main body of the text.
Participants receive email notifications to proposed changes and authors are alerted to the status of the review.
“It eliminates some of that contentious back and forth when reviewers may not agree. PleaseReview issues a reconciliation report with a list of the changes and the reason for rejection, for example. It can be set up for automatic reminders and notify reviewers by email to hot links to a particular area of the document to resolve disagreement,” Wilhelm said.
At the end of the review, PleaseReview automatically exports the completed document with or without track changes for the participants.
Administrative changes can be made offline, for example, to conform to the formats of Navy doctrine, instructions or manuals for standard fonts, chapters and appendices.
The workflow is simpler and in real time, Webster said, and Wilhelm agreed.
“That has been our goal with NDLS and with the document review process to make the process faster for the warfighter so documents can be updated as needed instead of waiting for the mandatory three-year requirement because the process was so painful,” Wilhelm said.
Commands also have the option to conduct tiered reviews to accommodate the military chain of command, Wilhelm explained. Sub-reviews allow comments to be staffed privately within each reviewing command until they are authorized for release to the author and other reviewers.
PleaseReview’s specialist review functionality allows participants to mark up the document but not overwrite others’ proposed changes. Not only is there control over what reviewers can and cannot do within the document, there is control over the document itself. For example, sections of the document can be made “read only” or can be made into a co-authoring area where access can be assigned to other individuals to co-author that particular section.
This collaborative authoring feature enables multiple subject matter experts to write sections of the document in parallel, and can occur while the review is in progress. Once the section has been edited, it is simply uploaded back into the review.
NWDC has 500 licenses for PleaseReview but a reviewer can be a participant in multiple reviews using only one license. Completed reviews allow licenses to be released for use by other participants.
In addition to Navy warfare publications and instructions, PleaseReview is ideal for planning documents, according to Webster and Wilhelm.
NWDC’s experimentation group is using PleaseReview to collaborate on the schedule for the next series of experiments to be hosted by the command in the Navy Center for Advanced Modeling and Simulation. NCAMS is a 10,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art modeling and simulation facility which supports the Navy Continuous Training Environment (NCTE), experimentation, and concept generation and concept development.
PleaseReview is hosted in an unclassified environment; by this summer a classified version will be available, Wilhelm said. An enhanced comment search capability is planned as the system evolves.
CAC holders can request access to the PleaseReview capability by going to the NWDC portal: https://www.nwdc.navy.mil/accounts.
To access the Navy Doctrine Library System, CAC holders can visit: https://ndls.nwdc.navy.mil/default.aspx .