JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

What pushes a manager and a team to change the way the system works? How does an information-development manager get the attention of upper management to support the need for change? Join me in September in Monterey CA at the 2012 Best Practices conference to hear the success stories and learn about the challenges inherent in any change initiative.

Consider Emily Mydlowski at Hach Company. Her organization was viewed as a drag on the company’s product-release process. They found themselves at the end of a long process, fighting to complete the product documentation once the product was ready to ship. After they recognized that they had to change their roles in the process, they had to convince everyone, including the information-development team as well as the product developers, that they knew what needed to happen.

Learn how the Hach information developers helped their organization recognize that they needed to be an integral part of the release process, ensuring that the information they needed from product development was available to them at exactly the right time.

Convincing team members to change their habitual way of working is never easy, but learn from Microsoft’s Julie MacAller and Margaret Parsons that it can be done, with patience and persistence. The team that creates Microsoft’s developer documentation was locked into a product focus. All they needed to do was to explain each function and feature of the product and the customers and the product developers would be happy.

How many information developers remain convinced that they simply need to massage the information given them by the product developers? If the customers are programmers and engineers, won’t descriptions of features and functions satisfy their needs? It turns out that the customers are not satisfied. What they continually ask for is scenario-based information that helps them meet their goals.

Clearly, changing the hearts and minds of experienced information developers is complicated, requiring managers committed to change and ready to work one-on-one with each team member. By building the customer case, the Microsoft writers responsible for developer documentation are learning a new set of behaviors that help the customers succeed.

A similar challenge of changing how information developers think about their responsibilities was faced by Hebe Hehui of Huawei Technologies, China. By pursuing a minimalist agenda, Hebe brought back a message from her customer studies—customers needed information that directly supported the tasks they needed to perform. More than 50 manuals, with information scattered throughout, made finding the right information at the right time nearly impossible. Hebe worked to convince the managers and information developers that they needed to remove unnecessary content and emphasize users tasks that corresponded to the workflow of the customer personas. As a result, the writers were able to move from 50 manuals to 5 and reduce content by 40%. Such massive change is enormously challenging, requiring many people through the information-development process to change their habitual behaviors.

Mark Hoeber of IBM helps us understand how to interpret information gained from web analytics about customer content preferences and requirements. Most web analytics tell us how much time a customer spends on a specific page of a website, in addition to tracking the customer’s movement through a series of pages. Unfortunately, the data cannot tell us if the customer found the information useful or was frustrated by an unanswered question. Hoeber uses the web analytics as a base on which to build more direct research with customers. The result is a focus on topics that are working and those that need additional support or may be missing the mark completely.

These four are only a sampling of the presentations and activities that make up the Best Practices event. We encourage managers to learn from the presenters but, even more importantly, to learn from the relationships with peers. We are all trying to encourage innovation and facilitate change. Through a pursuit of the conference theme, The Power of Habit, we hope to find ways to successfully produce the best habits in our teams that help our customers and our organizations succeed.

Dr. JoAnn Hackos is the CIDM Director.