Are Offshore Technical Communicators More Willing to Follow Best Practices Than Their US Counterparts?

Home/Publications/CIDM eNews/Information Management News 04.02/Are Offshore Technical Communicators More Willing to Follow Best Practices Than Their US Counterparts?

JoAnn T. Hackos, PhD
CIDM Director
www.infomanagementcenter.com

In the April 2, 2002 Issue 64 of E-SSENTIALS!, the e-newsletter of the Software Productivity Center, Carol Dekkers assessed the reasons why so many “offshore” software development organizations appear easily to achieve process maturity levels of 4 and 5 on the CMM (Capabilities Maturity Model) scale. US software developers typically have difficulty advancing much beyond Level 1, the lowest maturity level, characterized by considerable autonomy. Dekkers argues that organizations founded in more prescriptive, procedure-oriented cultures are more likely to follow the directives issued by an official body or their own management than are organizations in more independent, choice-oriented cultures. She quotes Dr. David Zubrow of the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) as observing that countries that were once part of the British empire, such as India, Singapore, and Hong Kong, tend to accept prescribed processes. Dekkers gingerly places Britain, Canada, and Australia in the prescriptive category also.

In analyzing the difficulty of implementing standard processes in American organizations, Dekkers also remarks that it is much easier to impose a structure on a new organization than to re-engineer processes in an existing organization, often at the same time that current work is being implemented. Many of the offshore organizations have been started in the last two or three years, although new software development groups in the US are not particularly open to strict procedural accountability.

If you’re wondering what all this has to do with information-development organizations, let me explain two ideas that are gradually merging for me: organizational process maturity and offshore information-development staff.

Information-development organizations in the US have had similar difficulty in adopting structured approaches to document design and project management. In assessments we have conducted using the Information Process Maturity Model (IPMM), we find many organizations at Level 1 or awkwardly ensconced in Level 2, an indication that they are trying to change but are having difficulty doing so. Few information-development organizations perform at Levels 4 and 5. Note that I described one Level 4 organization, NCR Waterloo, in the April 2002 issue of Best Practices. The source of the structural problems lies in the tendency of communicators, much like software developers, to prefer to work independently and make their own design decisions—to own their own books. They resist estimating projects, keeping track of project metrics, incorporating substantive editorial reviews, and even using a uniform page design.

Organizations attempting to implement modular structured writing programs as part of a content-management, single-source initiative are quickly discovering that they need work groups that enthusiastically embrace collaboration. To create a repository of information topics, all contributing to a comprehensive Information Model, requires a collaborative approach among the communicators. To achieve an impressive return on investment and to increase customer quality with content management requires a cooperative atmosphere in which domain experts work together toward a common goal.

One might conclude that to create an organization that will follow the best practices implied by Levels 3, 4, and 5 of the IPMM and achieve the collaborative model required for content management, we should embark upon a shift to offshore writing teams in cultures that will follow the best practices developed by the innovators in the choice-oriented cultures like the US. Can we use the current employment situation in the US to create a more collaborative and process-oriented culture within our organizations as well? In recent surveys of information-development managers, we have found that a less mobile workforce may lead to increased willingness to cooperate with process-based initiatives.

In the next few weeks, the CIDM will be conducting a survey of the successes and challenges in using an offshore workforce. The survey will begin a new benchmark study of experiences with offshore writers and the move toward more mature processes within our information-development organizations worldwide.

To conduct the benchmark internationally, we need participation and sponsorship. We are now working on the sponsorship fees but hope to keep these comparatively low to involve more participants. Let us know what you might be able to contribute in return for the comprehensive benchmark report and participation in the study.