The Rare Bird Award of the CIDM – An Opportunity for Recognition

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August 2007

The Rare Bird Award of the CIDM – An Opportunity for Recognition

CIDMIconNewsletterJoAnn Hackos, CIDM Director

Three year’s ago, the CIDM inaugurated the Rare Bird Award. With a wonderful judging panel, including Sue King, Debbie Rosenquist, Christopher Gales, Jonathan Price, and Julie Bradbury, we devised an award to recognize the most innovative management ideas among our members and others in the information-development field. We all believed that innovative management practices were going without recognition, contributing to the general lack of understanding of the contributions of information developers to their larger organizations.

We were all well aware of the STC Recognition programs. The STC awards the work of technical communicators in developing publications, including technical manuals, technical art, research articles, and other types of information. STC also recognizes people who have individually made important contributions to the technical communication field. The awards for Associate Fellow and Fellow have been expanded in recent years to recognize the achievements of academic professionals.

These excellent award programs left a gap that we at CIDM believe should be repaired—the recognition of the achievements of innovative managers and their teams. In our association with publications managers for nearly 30 years, we have found individuals and teams moving the profession forward:

  • customer partnering activities at Compaq Computer to understand the information needs of Information Technology (IT) professionals
  • in-depth analysis of information-development processes to create more effective and efficient operations
  • priorities established for documentation projects based on corporate strategic direction
  • introduction of usability testing of both documentation and products
  • development of self-paced e-learning tutorials addressing multiple learning styles
  • integration of documentation and training
  • focus on innovative multi-media delivery of information requiring support from multiple levels of stakeholders
  • staff training and motivation to improve performance
  • superior metrics that help to convince senior management of the value of information

These examples are only a few that I can recall of the exciting work of many managers to advance the state of the field.

In the three years since its inception, the Rare Bird Award has recognized significant achievements of departmental and organizational managers.

The first Rare Bird Award went to the User Assistance team for the Office Applications at Microsoft. This team, led by Janet Williams Hepler, introduced a system (Contact Watson) to encourage and respond to customer feedback on a topic-by-topic basis. Customers are encouraged to comment on the usefulness of help topics. Their comments go directly to information developers responsible for a specific set of help topics. Their comments are monitored and priorities identified. Once the information developer recognizes a topic that requires revising or complete restructuring, he or she initiates the changes. After the changes are approved, the new version of the topic or topics is immediately published to the web-based help system.

Not only has Contact Watson improved the quality of the help topics for the office applications, but it has also brought the writers closer to their readers. As a result, the writers have improved the overall quality of the help systems for new product releases.

The second Rare Bird Award recognized the work of Charlotte Robidoux and Pat Waychoff of Hewlett-Packard. These managers and their teams introduced a new planning and project monitoring system to accompany their move to topic-oriented authoring. The project monitoring process enabled the managers and the team members to understand exactly how a project is progressing toward completion or getting bogged down in changes and delays. The level of detail they produced was especially impressive because it focuses on qualities relevant to the success of the project, rather than on trivial details. Their project demonstrated how professional managers, aware of the numbers, are able to increase efficiencies and “talk the talk” as well as “walk the walk” of senior management.

The third, and most recent, Rare Bird Award went to the Total Information Experience team at IBM. Eileen Jones and Dave Peterson described in detail how an initially small project, limited to one business unit, spread throughout the corporation and beyond the ordinary reach of information development. Eileen and Dave outlined the process they put in place to bring together groups of information developers at all levels. These groups became responsible for defining a common look and feel for the information websites at IBM. They became responsible for introducing each business unit to the Darwin Information Typing Architecture. They provided a management perspective to the effort of redefining information deliverables. As a result of the Total Information Experience initiative, Eileen and Dave’s effort won them a 71% improvement in customer satisfaction with technical content in one year.

Now the judging panel is assembled, under the leadership of Bill Gearhart, a CIDM consultant and trainer. The judges are awaiting your submission for the 2007 Rare Bird Award. If you have changed the way your organization does business, if you have succeeded in pleasing customers, saving costs, or gaining operational efficiencies that are beyond the norm, we want to hear from you.

Enter your Rare Bird submission online at
/bestpractices/2007/rarebird_submission.htm. Be certain to provide corroborating documentation, especially if you have measurements that show the success of your best practice with company and customers. If you have any questions about whether your submission meets the judging criteria, be certain to call me at 303-232-7586 to chat.

I look forward to seeing you at the Rare Bird Banquet on Tuesday evening at the Best Practices Conference held at the Château Élan Winery & Resort, September 18. CIDMIconNewsletter