Since coming to us first in 2014, Cisco has produced 12 books with Book Sprints. These include:
- ACI Operations Guide
- ASR 5000/ASR 5500 Mobility
- Cisco Catalyst 9000: A New Era of Networking
- Cisco Enterprise Wireless: Intuitive Wireless Starts Here
- Cisco IOSxe Programmability: Automating Device Lifecycle Management
- Cisco Software-Defined Access: Enabling Intent-Based Networking
- Cisco Ultra M Troubleshooting Guide
- Open NX-OS Programmability
- Programmability and Automation with Cisco Open NX-OS
- Troubleshooting Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI): Problem resolution insights from Cisco engineers
- VXLAN EVPN: A Modern, Open and Scalable Fabric
- vMS Troubleshooting and Operations
Their first Book Sprint in 2014 was an experiment for Cisco. No stranger to technical documentation, they had at that stage been writing and publishing through their own publishing house, Cisco Press, for over 20 years. Cisco Press books go through a very particular production process, typically involving just one or two writers whose task it is to map and conceptualise the topic, filling in the gaps in their own knowledge through a range of experts. Production can take from six months to two years.
Changing the workflows
Cisco’s Book Sprints have flipped that process on its head by bringing the engineers, who build and maintain the technology, together to create a shared understanding of the software and write the guide themselves. And it all happens within a much tighter timeline.
The first Book Sprint produced the hefty ‘Troubleshooting Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI): Problem resolution insights from Cisco engineers’ which was printed in 2500 copies and distributed across Cisco and given to customers.
What the contributors say
Jeff McLaughlin, a technical marketing engineer (TME) and manager who organised a Book Sprint in May 2018 explains why Cisco continues to us Book Sprints to produce technical documentation: “We need to get information out quickly in a way that people can easily consume. That’s why we have been doing so many of these Sprints. There is a great satisfaction in having a printed book which you can take anywhere and give to customers… The customers really appreciate the books.”
The quality of the books is important for them, he says: “The Book Sprint produces material of a higher quality than one of our typical white papers – a longer and in-depth document which is superior because it has more contributors and a more thorough review process.”
Lauren Malhoit was a participant in one of these Book Sprints in 2015 and comments on the benefits as a participant: “I wrote a book myself and published it and it took six months, by which time the tech was obsolete. Also it was just me, one person working on the book. There were three technical experts reviewing it but I didn’t know them and wasn’t sure I could trust their expertise entirely. With the Book Sprint all the experts are in the room, so things can get checked and verified straight away. I learnt so much because of this as well, having those people in the room.”
Lauren also said that being part of the writing team has been a great addition to her own resume. “Most people are excited about it because it’s an opportunity to get their name on a book without going through a year long marathon,” says Jeff, who personally invited participants to the Sprint he organised in April 2018. “With this you know, you just show up for a week and you get a book!…It’s a guaranteed outcome – you will have a book at the end of this so most people were pretty enthusiastic about it.”
Cisco is now doing approximately one Book Sprint each quarter, in time to present and distribute the new book at their quarterly Cisco Live event.