There’s an opportunity for a few more leaders of UK documentation teams to join the peer-group mentoring Mastermind group that we facilitate.
The quarterly face-to-face meetings have been running for a year now, with the group providing advice and assistance, under the Chatham House Rule, to fellow Documentation Managers seeking to resolve an issue they have been struggling with. It’s a process of learning and developing skills through the medium of shared experience: something from “real-life” and valuable to everyone in the meeting.
The next session will be free of charge, and will be held in Hammersmith, west London (date TBA – probably late May/early June). Other events have either been free of charge or at a notional charge to cover teas and coffees.
At Intellect (the trade association for UK technology companies) yesterday, there was a meeting looking at how UK software companies are faring in this current economic climate. At this event, a panel of software companies CEOs and directors discussed the key issues they are currently facing and the future economic climate for this industry sector.
What struck me was the changes that are happening in Technical Publications complement the changes going on in the overall business.
The ten main issues were:
The reduction in sales.
The need for cash retention and challenges surrounding raising debt or capital.
The continuing difficulties in recruiting good talent.
A high focus on customers and their needs:
- developing incremental services to existing customers
- developing more customer business focused services
- enabling software to connect to other applications
The importance of improving the user experience, such as that adopted by Apple with the iPhone and iPhone Application store.
The move to SaaS (software as a service) and the Cloud.
The emergence of semantic data, collaboration and ontologies.
The move to “mass personalisation” and the emergence of software artisan companies that will personalise mainstream applications.
The growth in mobile phone applications.
The ability to carry out greatly improved analysis of data, leading to greater customer insights.
The big trend in technical communication at the moment is the move towards (XML) single sourcing systems. These break the information into small units of information that can be re-used and repurposed for different circumstances.
This offers a number of benefits, consistent with many of the points listed above:
It gives the software companies the ability to develop a range of user assistance documents, each focusing on a particular type of customer and their needs (Points 3 and 7).
It means the content can be merged with other content to provide the support information in the right context (Points 3, 5 and 6).
With DITA, it helps ensure the support information can written isn a way that clearly enable users to complete tasks (Point 3 again – more business focused services – and Point 4).
With DITA, it means semantic data is included in the documentation (Point 7).
Content can be published in different media (Points 5, 6 and 8).
In Rahel Bailie’s excellent presentation at the STC Conference (“The New Face of Documentation“), she looked at the “No Documentation” approach to software user assistance. This, she summed up, as the “we don’t document it; we just fix it” view of software development.
She argued that a “No Documentation” approach doesn’t lead to no documentation. Users soon start to share their tips, tricks and information. They generate the content they need. The consequence of this is that the software developer loses control of user documentation – what is said, and which pages users view when they search in Google.
She made a good case for the need for user documentation where:
The application or system is complex
Training is needed
You want to guide users to additional features or services
The concept or process is not familiar to users
Assistance needs to be embedded in the User Interface
I think that’s a great analysis.
She covered a number of topics we’ve looked at in this blog: the impact and role of Twitter; Web 2.0; component based authoring of re-usable topics; user generated content; and an ecosystem approach to user assistance.
It’s clear that technical authors can produce more than just paper manuals. I’m sure in the next few years we’ll see technical communication evolve, as software developers embrace and master these new technologies, and user assistance, in some form or another, will still be needed.
I’ve been asked to present a workshop at the STC TransAlpine Conference on “career development – an approach and key skills”. This will be held on 8th June in Vienna. I’m a late replacement for a speaker who has unfortunately been taken ill.
We’ll look at:
Future trends in technical communication – where’s it all heading
Personality of success – for technical authors
Marketing yourself (with exercises)
Job hunting and networking (with exercises)
Delegates can also bring along their CVs/Resumes and I ‘ll critique them.
The first Documentation Managers/Leaders mentoring meeting date has now been set: for the afternoon of Tuesday 26th May 2009.
The afternoon is dedicated to providing a safe forum where documentation managers can share the issues they face and get their challenging questions answered – not just by an expert but by people who’ve faced similar challenges to your own. It’s a process of learning and developing skills through the medium of shared experience: something from “real-life” and valuable to the recipient.
We’ve had someone step forward with a problem they’d like to discuss. It relates to managing off-site/overseas authors and dealing with a headcount reduction/headcount cull.
The meeting will be held in Russell Square, London. We’re making a nominal charge to cover charge for teas, coffees and biscuits. Cherryleaf is picking up the tab for the room hire. The group size is limited to 16 particpants (plus the chairman).