April 2007

From the Director

CIDMIconNewsletter JoAnn Hackos, CIDM Director

“No, I don’t mean your resume.”

Technical communicators and educators in general use the word “portfolio” to label the collection of sample manuals, papers, reports, and other evidence of their handiwork. Finance managers use the word “portfolio” to describe your collection of investments. Marketers use “portfolio” to describe the products offered for sale by a company.

As an information-development manager, portfolio describes your collection of projects and other activities that are the responsibility of your team. Managing your portfolio of projects is one of the most important roles you play as a middle manager in the larger corporation. You set priorities and assign resources. You ensure that the information products you produce meet the needs of the customers and corporate requirements for cost effectiveness and efficiency. In my newest contribution to the literature of technical information development, I discuss many ways to manage your portfolio of projects effectively. The second major part of Information Development: Managing your Documentation Projects, Portfolio, and People (Wiley 2006) is focused on portfolio management. I have found it remarkable to follow the increasing focus on global standards for technical information development over the past few years. Fourteen years ago, when I was president of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), I urged our leaders to become more involved in the development of industry standards. At that time, however, there was little interest. People seemed to feel that no agreement could be reached nor would anyone pay attention to standards developed by our community. Nonetheless, we founded an STC Standards Committee, on which I continue to serve.

I include ten subjects under the general heading of portfolio management:

  • Creating a Balanced Scorecard
  • Developing and managing an operating budget
  • Understanding the technology adoption life cycle
  • Developing ongoing relationships with customers and other stakeholders
  • Developing user scenarios
  • Optimizing your organizational efficiency and effectiveness
  • Supporting process improvements with effective tools
  • Developing effective teams
  • Managing your team resources
  • Developing as an effective leader
  • Promoting innovation

Note that the topics follow the general structure of the Balanced Scorecard:

Each of the four perspectives represents a way of measuring your current state and planning for the future of your organization. The financial perspective asks you to consider how your organization contributes to corporate profits. The customer perspective focuses on satisfying customer needs. The perspective on business process requires that you optimize the way your team members work while ensuring that they are doing a good job for the customers. The perspective on learning and growth asks you to consider how to help your team grow and to pursue innovations that increase efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance the information you deliver to customers.

Here is the argument I use in the new book. Information-development managers can use a Balanced Scorecard approach to both drive and measure the success of organizational change. Remember that a best practice in organizational change management is now one of the key characteristics of the latest revision of the Information Process Maturity Model (IPMM). The new IPMM is fully described in the Information Development book. If you have not put into effect a method for managing change, you are not functioning as a mature leader of a mature organization.

With the Balanced Scorecard, you can align the goals and objectives of your department with the strategic vision of your corporate leaders. You can use the Balanced Scorecard to translate your vision of a mature department into a set of performance measures that go beyond simply measuring costs (and profits).

Robert Kaplan and David Norton of Harvard Business School developed the Balanced Scorecard approach in their 1996 book of that title. They argue that the approach works at many levels of the organization because it accounts for all of the company’s “intangible and intellectual assets.” In their list of assets, they include high-quality products and services, motivated and skilled employees, responsive and predictable internal business processes, and satisfied and loyal customers. They argue that, as managers, we must develop all the assets, not just the financial ones.

Consider the following if-then sequence as applied to information development:

If you invest in training your employees to study your customers and their information needs, then they will be able to design and develop more effective information products. If the information products they design are successful, then customers will be able to lower their costs of doing business with your company and increase their staff productivity as they use your company’s products. If the customers are more successful, then they will buy more products from your company, thereby increasing its profitability and success.

The sequence of statements shows how to acknowledge the four perspectives of the Balanced Scorecard as you improve your portfolio management. By investing in your staff, you gain efficiencies in process. By improving process, you reduce costs and improve customer quality. All of your actions affect the strength of your portfolio. You can decide which projects under your management require an investment in innovation or which projects should move to maintenance mode. You can decide which projects to assign to your most talented and progressive team members and which might be assigned to a temporary outsourced staff. You will know about projects that are so new that they have no established market and others that have such a well-established, legacy market that your customers need only reference data.

Investing in your organization through a carefully calculated strategy will make your portfolio decisions easier to make and lead to more successful outcomes. Portfolio management is the responsibility of a visionary leader and a strong manager. Both vision and hard-nosed efficiency have their roles in managing for the present and for the future of your organization.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer – don’t relinquish portfolio management to others. Product managers, development managers, and even senior managers look to you to make the best decisions for the organization. But remember, your best, most professional decisions must be focused on the company’s business strategies and goals, not only on the needs of your staff. The Balanced Scorecard approach allows you to meet both sets of goals with creativity grounded in a firm business foundation.