Developing Leadership Skills for Information-Development Managers

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JoAnn Hackos, CIDM Director and Comtech Services, Inc. President

I have been thinking a lot lately about what is needed to prepare new and aspiring information-development managers for the challenges that our organizations face. CIDM’s mission is to support managers who want to learn from their colleagues and to help new managers learn about their roles from those with many years of experience.

For many years, during the 80s and early 90s, I was one of the organizers and instructors in the certificate program for information-development managers offered through the Silicon Valley extension of the University of California – Santa Cruz. Our program had a great reputation for helping managers handle their tasks. It was attended by many of the individuals who became the leading managers for the new software and hardware companies springing up like weeds in Silicon Valley at the time.

Recently, I was asked by the Technical Writers of India (TWIN) to consider developing a similar program for managers in India. The opportunity is intriguing but requires lots of help and expertise to succeed.

It worries me that almost no training is available for information-development managers anywhere. STC offers a certificate program for technical writers with a variety of effective online courses, one of which is a course for Technical Communication Managers that Saul Carliner teaches. Unfortunately, no other regularly scheduled curriculum for managers seems to be available.

At the same time, a small team of very experienced managers has joined me to develop a new draft for the ISO management standard, ISO/IEC/IEEE 26511: 2011 Systems and software engineering—Requirements for managers of user documentation. This standard could serve as a basis for a program of Leadership Skills for new and prospective managers. The 2011 version of the standard is available at http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail?csnumber=43070. The Table of Contents and the first four sections are available online. You can purchase the 2011 version for 158 Swiss francs or 160 US dollars. Sorry, they are not free.

Given the starting point of the new ISO draft, we might think about developing and offering a series of short courses that could aid our colleagues in India and provide a useful program for information-development managers worldwide.

I hope that you will consider providing input and becoming part of the development team.

Here is a list of the topics proposed for the revision of ISO 26511 standard, a list that might serve as a starting point for a program:

  • Customer needs assessment
  • Enterprise/departmental content strategy
  • Documentation project planning
  • Documentation project management
  • Hiring, training, and managing teams
  • Managing review and testing
  • Managing translations
  • Managing content delivery
  • Measuring customer satisfaction
  • Measuring productivity, efficiency, and cost
  • Evaluating process maturity

One thought to take into account about the draft standard. If your company supports standards in its engineering and software development work, you may be able to encourage them to support the standard for documentation management.

The program in Silicon Valley included many but not all of these topics. We had core courses in

  • Managing documentation projects
  • Developing a technical writing staff
  • Developing quality technical information

Each course was presented either as a two-day short course or a series of partial sessions. Today, with Internet access, we can offer the short courses online, perhaps over four to six weeks. Of course, there will be plenty of homework!

Remember that another basis for training new managers is the outline of Key Characteristics in the Information Process Maturity Model (IPMM). The IPMM evaluates an organization according to its effectiveness in ten areas:

  • Organizational structure
  • Quality assurance
  • Planning
  • Estimating and scheduling
  • Hiring and training
  • Publications design
  • Cost control
  • Quality management
  • Change management
  • Collaboration

You can find out more about the IPMM at http://www.infomanagementcenter.com/publications/e-newsletter/may-2011/information-process-maturity-how-does-your-organization-measure-up/

Any organization can ask for an IPMM assessment, which includes both a questionnaire and a site visit to interview staff members. The assessment cost depends on the number of interviews.

An IPMM assessment lets you know the areas in which you are strong and those that need development. It can be effective in persuading management to support process improvements that are highly likely to increase productivity and customer satisfaction.

If you have ideas to share on the need for a program designed for information-development managers, please visit the CIDM LinkedIn group for a link to this article or write me at info@infomanagementcenter.com.