Managing information when you are a project services company

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.

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The lost Steve Jobs interview – on successful products

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.
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Assessing the potential savings from single sourcing

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.

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Critical risk factors in content strategy

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:

criticalriskfactors

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Learning from Netflix

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

Should Technical Authors be allowed to work from home?

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

  1. 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.
  2. There’s less need for office space and related costs (telephones, desktop computers etc).
  3. 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.
  4. You may get more flexibility over staff availability. Without the need to commute, staff may be more willing to work out-of-hours.
  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. It’s easier to network with others. These contacts could boost your careers in the future.
  3. It’s easier to monitor the work staff are carrying out.
  4. It’s can be faster to make decisions (as you can carry out impromptu meetings).
  5. 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.”

Our opinion

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

Webinar: Towards an Agile authoring methodology – learning from Lean

Agile programming has grown in popularity and it has led to new challenges for those involved in providing user assistance for those applications. So is it time for technical authors to develop an equivalent method for developing content for these projects? Is it time to develop an “Agile authoring” methodology? Also, if we want to move away from a hand-crafted approach to developing content and towards a more engineering-like approach, what can we learn from the latest techniques being applied in manufacturing?

Such a method needs to complement Agile programming, but it may be a mistake to take Agile programming as the starting point for developing it. The developers of Agile drew upon the principles of Lean manufacturing, and perhaps technical authors should do the same.

In this webinar, we will explain how the principles of Lean manufacturing can be applied to developing and managing content. It’s a way of writing that focuses on maximizing the value to the user and minimizing waste. It involves measuring the processes and value of what has been delivered so that iterative improvements can be made over time.

This webinar will be hosted by the Society for Technical Communication.

Promo code: WS030513

Register for Towards an Agile Authoring Methodology – Learning From Lean

Webinar – Planning user documentation when you’re a startup business

We’re currently working on 40 minute webinar on:

  • Planning user documentation when you’re a startup business

If you have any questions on this topic, you can email these to us prior to the event. We’ll do our best to make sure we address them in the webinar.

Send us an email with your question

Details on the date for this webinar will be published in the Events section of the Cherryleaf Web site.