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:
I met up with a Technical Author at the Technical Communications UK 2013 conference whom I’ve been talking to on the phone over recent months. She’s been trying to convince her bosses that they should take a less chaotic approach to producing user documentation.
I’d previously suggested she look at how much it was costing them to translate their user documentation, so they could build a business case around that. She thought they were translating the user documentation into eight languages, but, at the conference, she told me that she’d discovered it was actually 24.
With that amount of localisation, there’s an opportunity for some significant savings if they could re-use content from one Help system in another.
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).
“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.
A good Technical Publications manager will, naturally, set a strategy for their department. In addition to the HR, technical and project management aspects, there’s another factor to consider – the marketing strategy for the department.
Sales consultant Richard White advises businesses define and describe the archetypes for their particular product or service. He means the types of people who might buy your product or service. Many Technical Authors develop personas representing the variety of different end users, which is a similar exercise. However, when it comes to defining those who fund and initiate the services of the Tech Pubs department, who or what are those archetypes?
One archetype can be ‘the uncertain manager’. They know a product should come with user assistance (e.g. user guides and online Help), but they are uncertain of the value of providing it. This means they can’t quantify how much money to invest in the department (or in a contractor, a technical writing company etc).
So how should you market the Tech Pubs Dept. to this archetype?
In this situation, it’s a case of helping them determine the value of user documentation. Measurement tools (such as our free support call cost reduction calculator) can help, but it’s also important to understand what issues they have and need to solve. You may need to frame the value of the department with reference to their challenges.
If you can think of any problems and needs an ‘uncertain manager’ might have, do list them below. How do you think you could demonstrate your value to them? We welcome your thoughts.
In July 2010, Mark Prisk, UK Minister of State for Business and Enterprise said:
As the events of the past two years have made painfully clear, we must leave behind the over reliance on financial services and support a renewal in modern manufacturing, so we are able to grasp the huge opportunities of the low carbon age. The ideas, skills and innovations of manufacturers will be just as important to our economic future, as the mills and mines were in our past.
Ten years ago, you’d find many consultants raising the issue that an organisation’s ‘knowledge assets’ walk out the door every evening.
Today, that’s still pretty much the case.
Organisations found it was difficult to capture the knowledge locked in employees’ brains. Many invested in expensive systems that offered poor authoring environments and complex ontologies. Retrieving the recorded knowledge could be a dreadful user experience as well.
With the economic future of countries such as the UK being based partly on creating wealth from the ‘knowledge economy’ and Intellectual Property, and with the recent, exciting, developments in technology (such as the semantic web, screencasts, wikis and open source software) now is the ideal time to revisit the issue of how to capture, collaborate and disseminate knowledge within and without the organisation. For a business working in a difficult climate, it can be the equivalent of finding loose change down the back of the sofa.
The closing keynote presentation of TCUK 2010, made by J Haynes, Chairman of the Haynes Publishing Group, contained advice useful not only to those creating manuals but also to any organisation looking to communicate information to others. John went through the 50 year history of Haynes, publishers of the Haynes manuals, and explained the reason for the company’s successes and failures.
“Whatever the subject, all Haynes Manuals are ‘hands on’ and are based on the founding principle on which the first manual was created: we do the work, we take the photographs, we create the notes and we tell the truth about how hard or easy a task is. It is the clarity and honesty of this simple methodology, created to help anyone interested in undertaking a practical challenge, that has made Haynes an iconic brand trusted by millions.”
He also explained why many professional mechanics choose to use a Haynes manual over the manufacturers’ guides:
They are consistent in their structure. As all the manuals are structured in the same way, people know where to look for a particular piece of information.
They are consistent in the use of symbols and diagrams. A wiring diagram for a Ford uses the same symbols as the wiring diagram for a Volkswagen.
As there’s no common standard between manufacturers regarding how a manufacturer’s service manual should be designed, it’s difficult for mechanics to move from one type of car to the next, unless they use a Haynes manual.
This recipe for success – Clarity, Honesty, Findability and Consistency – is surely not only true for car manuals, but also for any business looking to communicate effectively.