As a technical communicator, sometimes it can be hard to explain to others what it is you do. In the olden days, it was simpler: you could say you wrote manuals. Then, in more recent times, you could say you wrote online Help and manuals.
Today, there can be uncertainty of what is and isn’t technical communication. It can be unclear if certain deliverables should be created by a technical communicator or by someone else. For example, if content moves from a Help page to an onboarding screen, is it still technical communication? If the text moves into the interface, should the technical communicator create it? Are walkthrough videos a function of training or technical communication?
James Somers is releasing an add-on for Google Docs, Draftback, that enables you to play back and analyse the creation of any Google Doc you have permission to edit.
It means you can see how a writer created the document, the sections they spent time rewriting and rearranging, the elements that were pasted into the document from elsewhere, and so on.
From an organisation’s perspective, the graphs Draftback that produces potentially could be used to show when and where the writer spent most of their time:
I could see this illustrating the impact of last minute changes to a product, review comments and other external factors. Potentially, it could also highlight areas where a writer might need assistance or training.
What do you think?
Last week, we completed the third phase of our IT systems migration. With each phase, we’re gaining insights into how information can be best managed inside a company selling and delivering project-based services.
There are a number of basic IT systems needed to run a project-based business, such as ourselves:
- Prospect database. This is essentially for sending out mailshots and any freebies offered on a website.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM). This is for following up new enquiries, past customers and carrying out other sales-related activities. This involves keeping a record of past conversations and next steps.
- Project management. This involves keeping a record of conversations, repositories for files and contracts, time spent on a project, and other project-related activities.
- Accounting. This involves invoicing and payments.
In numerous companies where I’ve worked there’s been a problem in finding the ideal solution. A single system that does everything may force you to work in a particular way of working, and these systems can be expensive for smaller organisations. Having separate systems can lead to information not being shared across the systems. For example, many of the project teams I’ve worked with have found CRM systems, such as Salesforce.com, too complex. They simply don’t use them often enough.
Last night, we watched Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview on Netflix. It’s a lengthly (70 minute) interview from 1995, in which Steve Jobs discussed his recipe for a successful business. The interview was made 19 years ago when Steve Jobs was still running NeXT Computers, and just six months before he rejoined Apple.
Here are some highlights.
One of the main benefits from single sourcing is the ability to reuse existing content. Different departments can avoid duplicating work, which means they can save time and money.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to quantify these savings before you move to an authoring or content management system that enables you to single source. Analysing all the existing documents in a business can be overwhelming, which means often organisations only quantify the savings after the single sourcing content management system has been implemented.
There are a few software applications that can help you analyse your existing content and determine how much duplication exists. You get a sense of how much time and effort was wasted in the past, which is a pretty good indication of how much waste you’d avoid in the future.
Via Twitter, we came across a blog post by Nick Milton on The four management territories for Knowledge Management. His post contained a diagram where he used the Boston Square to describe four management territories, and their impact on Knowledge Management.
We wondered how this diagram would look if it related to content strategy. We came up with a diagram that describes the critical risk factors in content strategy – the aspects you will need to ensure you get right within the management culture that exists inside your organisation:
You’ll find our latest post for the Society for Technical Communication on its Notebook blog. It’s called Letter from the UK: Learning from Netflix:
“Netflix can track and analyse, in minute detail, the behaviour of every person who watches a programme on its service. The rumour is that Netflix used its “big data” to decide what would be the best programme to make for its audience …. In some cases, unfortunately, technical publications teams are more in the dark about their customers than the TV networks.”
See: Letter from the UK: Learning from Netflix
With the recent media attention on Yahoo’s announcement that it is banning its staff from “remote” working, we thought it might be useful to look at the case for and against Technical Authors working from home.
The case for allowing remote working
- They can do their jobs more productively without interruption from others. When Technical Authors are writing (which is approximately 50% of their time), it can often help their concentration if they can work in a distraction-free environment.
- There’s less need for office space and related costs (telephones, desktop computers etc).
- Staff may be less stressed. Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family, claims people who work from home tend to have less stress and are more productive, partly because they don’t invest time and money in commuting, and they can have a better work/life balance.
- You may get more flexibility over staff availability. Without the need to commute, staff may be more willing to work out-of-hours.
- You have a wider pool of people interested in your vacancies if you can offer some flexibility in working hours and location.
The case against allowing remote working
- You’re more likely to build up a company culture if everyone is working in the same space together. This is particularly important for start-up businesses.
- It’s easier to network with others. These contacts could boost your careers in the future.
- It’s easier to monitor the work staff are carrying out.
- It’s can be faster to make decisions (as you can carry out impromptu meetings).
- According to Marissa Meyer, face-to-face meetings boost the quality of decisions and business ideas:
“Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”
Being a Technical Author is one of those roles where remote working can work well. However, it’s best to be able to have both options available – to have people who can come into the office within a short space of time, should there be an emergency. There’s a great deal of value in meeting people face-to-face, and to be part of a company culture (especially within startups), but it can help enormously if you can write in a distraction-free environment.
If you do work from home, you need to have a productive working environment, and be able to be self-disciplined.
What’s your opinion?
You can use the comment box below.
See also: Cherryleaf recruiting services