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Developing a documentaton Strategy Part 2 by RichardTruscott


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Communicator                The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators
                                                                        Autumn 2012

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34    Project profile

                             Developing a documentation strategy
                             Richard Truscott continues describing the challenges of developing
                             a documentation strategy where none previously existed.

                             Established over 100 years ago and an early        who was both a writing and technical expert and
                             adopter of IT, the not-for-profit organisation I   was responsible for:
                             worked for has a large portfolio of back office    ƒ Moderating the writing style.
                             IT applications. Its public facing organisations   ƒ Checking technical accuracy.
                             use these IT services to operate with its          ƒ Checking technical terms and the spellings of
                             customers around the globe.                          technical content.
                               This is the second of two articles explaining    ƒ Publishing and distribution.
                             how the work progressed; the first is in           ƒ Quality assurance.
                             the Autumn 2010 Communicator with an               This process is the one I proposed to use; I
                             accompanying article by Noz Urbina (Developing     believed it would work because:
                             a content strategy). This article is a review of   ƒ Word processors can check style and spelling.
                             the work carried out between July 2010 and July    ƒ Word processors that use DITA can further
                             2011, when I left the organisation.                  control the organisation of the content
                                                                                  through rules embedded in the EDD (Element
                             Knowledge Management report                          Definition Document)/DTD (Document Type
                             After carrying out an investigation, the             Definition).
                             organisation acquired and kept knowledge.          ƒ Content Management systems ensure control
                             After getting Mekon to carry out a Content           over content versions and give metadata to
                             Strategy Audit (CSA), I was now able to              describe the content.
                             expand the original report with additional         ƒ Using XML technologies make multi-channel
                             information on technology, and to create an          delivery of content possible with little extra
                             implementation plan.                                 effort.
      Customised; means
      commercial software    What the CSA report said                           Selling the idea
      that is adapted by     The main proposals were:                           At the time of completing the last article, a
      the vendor from its    ƒ To have the Software Development, Support        major part of the organisation’s restructuring
      original design by
                               and Business Community generate content in       was complete and the moment was right to sell
                               a format where presentation and content are      the idea. A new process improvement team was
                               not bound together.                              in place to take control of the processes and the
      Configured; means      ƒ The Technical Communicator should generate       procedures that the business follows. The new
      commercial software      support content and act as editor/moderator      head of the team enthusiastically accepted my
      that is used ‘out of     for community-generated content.                 strategy and was prepared to sponsor a trial.
      the box’ using the     ƒ The Technical Communicator should generate
      package as-supplied      customer facing documentation.                   Starting to unravel
                             ƒ Structured authoring and DITA (XML) should       However, there was one further appointment of
      For example, you
                               be adopted as a standard for documentation.      a new IT director. When he arrived, all changes
      can configure MS
      Word to show the       ƒ Establish a Help Centre.                         went on hold and a new direction for the IT
      paragraph markers      ƒ Obtain a CCMS (Component Content                 department emerged. As a result, I did no work
      and tabs.                Management System) for managing content.         on the strategy between July and December
                             Genesis                                              The change of IT policy moved the
      References and         The main ideas of letting the SMEs (subject        organisation away from bespoke, in-house
      further reading        matter experts) produce the content and have       designed software and customised proprietary
      Truscott, R,           an expert edit it, come from the way Post Office   software to one of only purchasing and
      ‘Developing a          Telecommunications (now BT) used to do things      configuring commercial software packages.
      Documentation          back in the pre DTP (desktop publishing) days.       In addition, my project trial sponsor resigned
      Strategy’,               The Engineers (SMEs) who designed, planned,      after only four months in the role.
      Communicator           commissioned and maintained systems, had             December 2010, saw the release of a new
      Autumn 2010:           to write the instructions. In pre DTP days         organisational structure, resulting in my job
      23-26                  this involved longhand writing, typing pools,      moving from the operations support department
      Urbina, N,             printer’s galley proofs etc. Those of you who      to a new department whose purpose was to
      ‘Developing a          are old enough will know what this means,          facilitate the change of IT policy.
      Content Strategy’,     the younger of you can take it from me, it
      Communicator           was a long laborious hand crafting method of       Unravelled
      Autumn 2010:           producing manuals. However, there was a full       It was quickly apparent to me that my new
      27-30                  time Editor for each major technical discipline,   job did not include doing any technical

     Communicator Autumn 2012
documentation work or pursuing any technical         Communicator. If you wish your response to be
documentation strategy, the project was over!        anonymous, please say so.
  The new job was not for me and I decided to        1. Have you tackled something similar and
leave my employer in July 2011.                         what was the outcome?
                                                     2. In an organisation with a poor
Lessons learned                                         documentation system, can it only be made
This was an organisation with no culture of             to change if it has to meet a standard such
documenting its products and services, which            as ISO9001?
means that it:                                       3. Is it possible to make changes to
ƒ Had little appetite for making the wholesale          documentation in a volatile and changing
  change I was proposing.                               organisation?
ƒ Would need a lot of high level management          4. Who in an organisation should have the
  support to get the strategy adopted.                  ultimate responsibility for documentation?
Although my line manager was initially               5. Would this strategy have worked? In
enthusiastic and instrumental in getting funding        addition, if it would have worked, what
for the Mekon CSA, the size of the task was very        would have been its difficulties? C
  The internal market structure of the
organisation with its business serving                        Richard Truscott FISTC is a freelance
different customer groups all serviced by an                  Technical Communicator.
IT organisation creates a silo mentality making               E:
business-wide changes difficult to implement.
  Managers (including mine) tended to be very
parochial and only manage their immediate
patch because it is not within their remit to
consider the effect of change on the business
  In the end, I concluded that the project was
doomed to fail for the following reasons:
ƒ The strategy affected the whole organisation
  and because of the silo nature of the
  organisation, it had little chance of being
ƒ The management support the strategy
  previously enjoyed was no longer there. No
  project will prosper without ‘buy-in’ at a high
  level; somebody has to sign for resources and
  and take the role of project sponsor.
ƒ With the change of organisation, there was no
  longer a person dedicated to documentation.

Was the strategy right?
Yes, I believe it was. During the course of
developing the idea, I have spoken to a number
of Technical Communicators attempting the
same kind of strategy. Sadly, their projects
have failed but not because the idea was bad,
there has always been another reason, such as
my case.
  I often wonder was the failure of this project
was just a case of ‘a good idea, in the wrong
place at the wrong time’.

Over to you
I would like to have a wider the debate on the
problems associated with a project of this type.
   Use the following questions as a guide and
send your comments, observations, experiences
and opinions to,
with ‘Documentation Strategy’ in the Subject
line. You can also contribute via the ISTC
Discussion list.
   I will collate the responses for publication in

                                                                                                      Communicator Autumn 2012

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