Round Table Highlights: Organizational Structures

By Sabine Ocker, Comtech Services

The February CIDM Monthly Manager Round Table topic was Matrixed Organizations. Of the members who joined us, only one is planning to move to a dotted-line organization in 2019, and none currently have writers who report directly or indirectly to project managers.

Given that reality, we peripherally touched upon matrixed organizations and we discussed other topics, such as centralized versus engineering-embedded writer resources, the role of collaboration in a highly productive team, and the differences among the successful organizational structures of CIDM member organizations.

Members shared great insights and tips, and here are a few.

  • The role project managers can play in technical publications writer resource allocation differs from country to country. Some countries have very specific laws which govern reporting structures. For one member’s company, the project managers can provide guidance and direction to writing staff in some countries, while they are kept at arm’s length—even during the interview process—in others. The result: some projects work better than others.
  • One member explained that at his company a project core team, consisting of a quality manager, a development manager, and a project manager, must review and approve all content before it can be published. Writing managers control the writing resource allocation and hiring, but the writers cannot make content available to users without the engagement of the core team. For all intents and purposes, this arrangement functions as a dotted-line structure.
  • One member explained at a previous organization she often operated as a resource salesperson, advocating to development managers what percentage of writer resources they would get if the writer worked in her team versus the percentage if the writer reported to the development team. The part of the organization who paid the writer’s salary got to determine the work priority. An unexpected outcome of this arrangement is that if she owned the writing resource and tried to move that writer to other work, the project team would get upset. If the development team owned the resource but the writer was looking to her team for guidance and support, that person was usually inundated with work. Neither of these outcomes were ideal and impacted the quality of the completed work product. In response, another member told us she prefers the project team to own the writer resources. It is easier on her as a manager, but harder on the writers because they have less support and flexibility.
  • Another member explained a time when her organization consolidated tools and processes and each product design team had their own writers. The organization’s biggest consumers of the product documentation are dealers, and they found the distributed writer approach introduced content inconsistencies across product lines. Dealers struggled to find the information they needed in Repair Procedures and Maintenance Diagnostics because information was in different places. The lesson learned, this member opined, is that a non-centralized writing team makes it especially important to have good standards and strong governance to enforce them. Content and information model consistency is harder to maintain in a distributed writing environment.
  • One member, a Solution Architect, has created a cohesive writing group even though not all projects share the same reporting structure. The look and feel of the content is consistent across the organization.  Mechanisms that aid the process include holding regular meetings, getting writers’ input, and—perhaps most important of all—enabling the Solution Architect to help writers in the following ways:
    • Keeping their software up and running
    • Maintaining authoring templates and making changes to the stylesheets
    • Providing tagging guidelines and a style guide
  • Prompted by the Solution Architect writer support insights, another member posited that the productivity difference between writers who are embedded versus ones who are centralized really depends on whether they have someone like an information architect or a solutions architect to support them.
  • A huge challenge members brought up is the lack of clear roles and responsibilities in their respective organizations. It is part of the DNA of a successful team to have a firm understanding of who owns what, who does what, and who makes the decisions about what. Not having this infrastructure in place can lead to inefficiencies in productivity.

One member suggested that CIDM provide members with resources such as a roles and responsibilities template. This suggestion may appear in some form in a future CIDM event.

Thanks to everyone who contributed their stories and insights.