February 2000

From the Director

CIDMIconNewsletter JoAnn Hackos

I hope that you all had a restful holiday and that you survived Y2K. Let’s hope that our programmer friends don’t introduce another major software problem in the new century. In this issue, we’ve reprinted the Trends article I wrote for STC’s Intercom. I am interested in any feedback, pro or con, that you may want to offer. Notice that we’ve included a “Letter to the Editor” column with a comment about the Trends article by Tom DesSaint, manager at Great Plains Software. I know everyone could offer similar interesting stories of departmental change.

We all continue to see our organizations undergo an extraordinary amount of change. A manager wrote recently that her company had changed hands four times in less than six months. She is now working for part of one company that stayed behind in the mergers and reorganizations. Several other managers have had changes in the people they report to, sometimes more than once in the past year. Others are experiencing an increasing rate of turnover among staff who are offered fabulous salary increases and stock options by startups.

All this disruption provides both challenges and opportunities. Changes in our own management can mean moving from a supportive manager to one who doesn’t understand our goals. The process of educating a manager begins all over again. On the other hand, we may also move from a non-supportive manager to one who is willing to learn.

Does it take a crisis for positive change to occur in your organization? One of our member managers faced such a crisis when members of their product user group announced that the documentation was not meeting their needs. The customers organized a task force and actually volunteered to work with the publications people on redesigning the technical manuals. Great move

I have found my own company faced with considerable change in the past several years. Bill Hackos and I have an outstanding personal financial manager. She remarked to us recently that she thought we should write a book called “Reinventing Your Company.” She was amazed, she said, at our ability to respond quickly to changes in the business environment.

Between 10 and 20 years ago, most of our business was focused on information design and development. We did large projects for major companies to redesign the documentation or training for a particular product. From redesign, we frequently rewrote the entire documentation suites and were involved over many years in updating the manuals. For example, we were the outsourced documentation and instructional design department for Public Services of Colorado (gas and electric company) materials management for nearly ten years. We produced and maintained thousands of pages of information.

Now we rarely run large documentation projects-almost all of our work involves management consulting, education, and product redesign. Most of you know us from our workshops and conference presentations, our work with your organizations on structure and process maturity, or our work helping your software developers create processes for user-centered design.

The change in direction was not easy but it was planned. I am a firm believer in long-term strategic planning. Sometimes strategic planning for an entire organization seems an act in futility. You wonder, “How can we plan five or ten years out when so much is likely to change?” I’ve learned that you can and must plan for the long term. Nearly ten years ago, we decided that we wanted to concentrate our efforts in becoming a organization that would help others learn. We drew a picture of what and who we wanted to be when we were still primarily a development organization. Even though that picture seemed unachievable, as it turned out, it helped us focus our decisions. Gradually, almost invisibly, we became what we had envisioned.

I urge you to reinvent your own organization. If you don’t, the pace of change will pass over you like a tidal wave. If you’re ready, you’ll ride the crest of the wave (most of the time) and emerge on the next shoreline. You may get a soaking in the process but otherwise you’ll drown.

It’s never simple to ride the crest of the wave. We experienced lots of really rough times that are frightening when you’re operating a small business. Sometimes you think you won’t survive. But there are no alternatives. You can’t stay the same.

I hope we can continue a dialog about change on the Best Practices Listserv and through articles and letters to the editor. We’ll publish them all. CIDMIconNewsletter