Critical Conversations at the 2008 Best Practices Conference

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October 2008

From the Director

CIDMIconNewsletterJoAnn Hackos

Critical Conversations at the 2008 Best Practices Conference

In September, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the CIDM Best Practices conference. Attendees claimed that this conference was the best yet—even those who had attended 9 of the 10 conferences. Our theme, Critical Conversations, was the focus of the first day. Six panels presented on six critical conversations that we, as managers and developers of user information, must have in our organizations. The Critical Conversations discussed at the conference included those with

  • Staff
  • Senior management
  • Colleagues who also create content
  • Trainers and training developers
  • Customers
  • The IT organization

In each case, we learned from panelists how to communicate more effectively with each group. Catherine Lyman, Network Appliance, and Colleen Smith, Teradata Corporation, took us through a series of role playing examples of conversations with staff. They taught us what language of exchange worked well and what caused more problems.

Next, Chona Shumate, Cymer, provided us with a detailed account of her conservations with senior management to increase staff size and acquire an XML-based content management system. The audience was amazed at the detailed financial data that Chona had accumulated in her presentations to management and the persistence it took to sustain 5 years of progressive appeals for increasing levels of financial and organizational support.

After the first of two conference open lunches (in which everyone organizes with friends and colleagues to continue conversations on their own), we settled down to four more critical conversations.

Bob Beims, Freescale Semiconductor, teamed with Daphne Walmer, Medtronic, to explain how we can enter into a dialogue with our customers. So many of our information activities today are one way. We create the content, and the customer consumes it. We know better, however. Customers have a lot to offer as experts in the use of our products in the real world. Bob explained how he has involved his semiconductor customers in providing feedback about content, and Daphne reviewed a host of methods we can use to invite customers into the conversation.

Attendees were surprised at the wit and straight from the gut advice we received from Ron Watson, ITT Fluid Technologies. Ron brought the IT perspective to the conference, a great benefit to many of us who find it difficult to enlist the support of our IT organizations in changing to enterprise technologies from the desktop. From Ron, we learned to get IT involved early, explain carefully what we are trying to accomplish, and appreciate how critical financial data will be in the equation.

The fifth critical conversation was presented by Jamie Roberts, IBM, and Dean Easterlund and David Jones, John Deere. Jamie described the development, organization, and ongoing responsibilities of the IBM content council. The council is responsible for bringing together all interested parties in IBM that deliver content to customers, including the support, training, product development, and marketing organizations. At John Deere, the information developers are working closely with marketing and customer support to form content coalitions. Each effort works to reduce redundant work and ensure that customers receive high-quality content throughout the life cycle of their product use.

The final critical conversation of the day came from Wanda Applegate, Laura Readdy, and Norma Foster, Siemens PLM. Wanda heads an organization that combines information and training development into one unified department. They have been working together for several years to break down the silos and share both content and in-depth understanding of customer needs. Laura and Norma have worked together on a pilot project to develop one content set that is used for both documentation and training. Their careful and well-orchestrated plan and content development resulted in 80 percent of topics shared among three deliverable media—manuals, instructor-led training, and e-learning. Of course, each medium required some unique content, but the team conveyed their enthusiasm for the collaborative effort and the message that all the content was greatly improved by the joint work.

On Tuesday morning, Palmer Pearson, Cadence Design Systems, and I opened the day with an interactive exchange. All the participants selected one of the six critical conversations and joined with colleagues around 16 tables. Palmer, Anne Bovard (Comtech), and I had developed a series of case studies for review and discussion. We reminded everyone of the principles discussed in our theme book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything.

  • Identify the goal that you want to reach.
  • Research the existing behaviors of your team or others that are essential to reaching your goal.
  • Focus on the vital behaviors that are not helping you reach the goal.
  • Develop a strategy that will change the vital behaviors by finding personal, organizational, and structural ways to do things differently.

We reminded everyone of the amazing work done by the Carter Center. They used the four-step process to help eradicate the devastating Guinea Worm from central Africa. The attendees followed the same process to solve problems with staff, management, IT, colleagues, customers, and training. And – the results were truly amazing.

Six participants presented the summaries of the discussions. These impromptu presentations were amazing – thorough, smart, and completely professional. And no one even had time to rehearse. These presentations proved beyond doubt the high caliber of people who attend the Best Practices conference.

If you couldn’t attend this year, you must put next year’s 11th annual conference on your agenda and in your budget today. It’s the best management event in the industry, without exception. We all take away so much by the conversations we listen to from the industry presenters and the exchanges with our peers throughout the week. Join us in 2009 in Vancouver, Washington for the next great get-together.CIDMIconNewsletter