JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services
CIDM members and prospective members gathered at the historic La Fonda Hotel on the central plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico for three and a half days of meetings, discussions, contests, and community. The Welcome Reception on Sunday evening was influenced by the heady atmosphere of the Santa Fe Festival out on the plaza. Little did we know that we were also celebrating the day that New Mexico became a state.
On Monday morning, we welcomed keynote speaker, Joanne Molesky, well-known author of Lean Engineering. Joanne focused on our conference theme: Searching for waste in all the right places. She challenged us to scale lean and agile principles across the organizations with the critically important concept of maximizing customer value. She pointed out what we all recognize: Our organizations focus on making money; our customers care about the quality of the products and information we deliver.
Molesky emphasizes a crucial concept. Waste means the loss of something that is valuable. Cutting costs is not the same as reducing waste. If we focus on cutting costs, we have failed.
Molesky emphasized that information development should never be viewed as a cost center. Information provides value to the customer. We need to emphasize that we are not an administrative function, that we are using our resources directly for the customer and, as a result, for the success of the business. We need to emphasize the value we provide and the successes we achieve to be fully recognized as a value center in our companies.
Chuck Aikman, from the IT team at Indiana University, reminded everyone of the value of Kanban as an agile process. He emphasized the importance of creating a minimal viable product that has value to the customer. By involving the entire team in a collaborative process around value, we can begin to build trust for the role of our organizations.
Mark Forry, NetApp, demonstrated how his team learned about customer requirements by setting up a booth at the corporate trade show. They developed an online survey and lots of prizes as incentives to collect customer feedback on their product information. Then they set up a strong communication plan to inform others in the organization of what they had learned.
First of the TED Talks
Following their successful introduction in 2015, we continued with the short and spiffy TED talks. Shorter, focused presentations are successful in getting everyone’s attention. Dawn Stevens, Comtech Services, gave us a quick overview of key lean practices. Chris Gales, Splunk, explained when using SCRUM may not be the best way of creating all of the information that your customers really need. Sam Taradash, Macmillan Cancer Support, demonstrated how they applied agile principles to the information developed for the public concerned with cancer diagnosis and treatment. Their goal was to introduce content reuse to their cancer experts by identifying key areas in which they encouraged people to change their long-held practices. They minimized disruption and helped people to feel confident that the new practices would help them improve the quality of their work.
IBM’s Knowledge Center
Monday’s talks ended with Jamie Roberts bringing us all up to date on the changes IBM has been making to improve the quality of its Knowledge Center. Their changes were user driven, including getting rid of faceted search, moving to a more “Google-like” search system, stripping out versioning when content hadn’t changed, adding incremental changes, and ensuring all the content was styled identically. The key to the success of the redesigned site was in following the principles of Design Thinking.
The Goat Market
No one knew what to expect! What in the world is a Goat Market? End of the day—and lots of remaining energy meant that every participant got to air a problem with three other colleagues during the session. By playing musical chairs, everyone got to sit across from another leading manager or other expert. The consensus? “The Goat Market was terrific—I’ve come away with notes on real, viable suggestions for how to solve my problem. Let’s do this again next year.”
Salsa Competition (No, We can’t dance!)
The talks may have ended for Monday, but the fun did not. Twenty-five of us took part in the Salsa Competition at the Santa Fe School of Cooking (cooking not dancing). Four teams competed under the supervision of a skilled and comedic chef. Of course, my team won for our tomatillo salsa, benefitting greatly from the leadership of Shyrl Ponder from Workday.
Tuesday Start off with Agile
Tuesday started off with an Agile Panel, led by Dawn Stevens, Comtech. The panelists, Jo-ann Fogg, VMWare, Sharon Figueria, HCL, and Connie Brown, Arris, challenged the audience with their responses to key questions: How many writers should be on an agile team? What at co-location? Does collaboration improve? And more.
Agile practices help writers focus only on content that customers really need. They increase collaboration with developers and, for the most part, the quality of the content improves. However, the managers told us that the big picture can get foggy and content become too technical if writers think only in terms of product features. Probably the biggest challenge if what everyone seems to label “fake agile.” Fake agile appears to mean developing without discipline or planning. The managers advised colleagues to find the “Big Red Button,” to be pressed when the process gets out of hand and information developers are left behind.
TED Talks Once Again
Tuesday TED talks were spirited. Sharon Figueria, HCL, and Liselotte Shaflee, Sigma Technology, led us through the story of Ericsson’s work with a flexible, outsourced team. The outsourcing helped them avoid a vicious cycle of hiring and layoffs of inhouse staff by developing a robust selection process and carefully specifying the requirements of the engagement. They warned about the potential conflict between procurement seeking lowest cost and the department seeking skills and quality.
Chona Shumate, Cymer, demonstrated how to focus content decisions on the user community, in her case, the field service engineers. By understanding their issues and focusing on their needs, her team improved “time to find” and developed a program with training to help the users frame their troubleshooting searches more effectively.
Joe Gollner, Gnostyx, took us on a journey through time to Content 4.0. He compared the journey with the movement in manufacturing from steam engines to robot assemblers and the movement on the web to the Internet of Things. If Content 3.0 means integrated content, an end-to-end lean process, and dynamic delivery, Content 4.0 may mean self-assembly and self-rendering content directly to the consumer. It becomes, we learned, massively more complex to manage content.
Variety was Tuesday Afternoon’s Focus
Three exciting presentations closed the afternoon before the Table Talks. Xuemei (Sherry) Zhang, Huawei, described an innovative approach to information as a service. She showed videos of vivid instructions delivered through QR code on a shipping box and an interface that allowed users to specify their own network configuration in an interactive mobile environment, allowing the company to return a unique network diagram on demand. Like much of Huawei’s recent projects, Sherry’s descriptions brought “Wow”’s from the audience.
Rebekka Andersen, University of California, Davis, recounted the initial results of the study she is doing with me to examine the relevance and value of academic research for industry practitioners. We will be reporting the full study results later in 2016 once the second phase of the project is completed.
Lelia Wright, Brocade, explained how their team changed from assigning writers to specific development projects to assigning them to broad swaths of technology. Because they became responsible for information about a focused technology across a wide spectrum of products, they were able to increase single sourcing and reuse of content across platforms to an amazing 75%. The increased efficiency means significantly less time spent reworking content, updating content, and revising it to enable reuse.
2016 Table Talks
Table Talks are a Best Practices innovation begun in 2015. We had 8 rotations of 15 minutes each to visit the demonstrations and discussions of both departmental and vendor members. I especially enjoyed Astoria’s Eric Kuhnen innovative approach to the Oxford Debate Style to have participants argue the pros and cons of publishing to PDF. The room was exceptionally lively, with every table crowded and lots of energy devoted to learning more about what our colleagues are pursuing.
We closed Tuesday with a terrific reception on the roof of the La Fonda, with a concert of chimes from the cathedral next door. Everyone was in a great mood, enjoying the southwest skies and incredible weather.
I was treated to a surprise retirement party – wonderfully emceed by my close friend and colleague, Daphne Walmer, who made a special trip to this Best Practices, even though she retired before me. Lots of friends gave spontaneous testimonials, which I cried through, and we ended with a beautiful cake.
Wednesday Continues the Spirited Exchanges of Members and Friends
We opened the final day of the conference with another challenging panel discussion about millennials in the workplace, organized by our very own millennial, Brianna Stevens. Chuck Aikman, Indiana University, Rebekka Andersen, UCD, Joe Gollner, Gnostyx, and Chris Gales, Splunk, responded to Brianna’s leading questions: Are millennials narcissistic? Are they over confident, lazy, disloyal, or anti-authority? The thoughtful responses centered around “no.”
We more “senior” citizens learned that millennials want their work to be meaningful and recognized, that their voices are equally important. They are especially skilled at cultivating relationships through social media and can teach their managers a lot about communicating with their generation. They want the flexibility to define when and how to work and believe that loyalty is earned. They tend to question the status quo and want to know why we do things. Clearly, this general mindset will challenge us as managers to support innovations and new ways of communicating information.
Robert Gillespie, Nokia, was able to join us through Skype after facing travel challenges. His theme, Molecular Content, mirrored Joe Gollner’s discussion of Content 4.0. His proposal is to integrate content more completely into the development life cycle, building a pipeline of automation to deliver content along with the code.
He processes to develop content molecules that deliver specific content to specific customers, something we actually saw through Sherry’s presentation earlier. His ideas are both exciting and challenging.
Rhonda Truitt & Shi Zhenyu, Huawei, demonstrated their Augmented Reality pilot projects, again part of a move to Content 4.0. Their customer studies reveal that the traditional documents do not satisfy customer needs. Their videos showed marketing and sales information communicated through manipulatable 3D projections from the page of a brochure and field service instructions through an IPad at the service site. Content search through object recognition quickly brought the right content to the user.
Sharon Fingold, ServiceNow, is focusing on customer requirements. They discovered that they had a taxonomy that was product oriented but the customers didn’t know the products well. They changed their focus supporting features to supporting the customers more effectively, especially through improving information on current products rather than exclusively focusing on future product information. Her advice: Treat every piece of customer feedback you receive as a potential documentation story.
Revising the Information Process Maturity Model (IPMM)
Our final event at Best Practices 2016 was a group activity to review and revisit the provisions of the IPMM. Each team had two of the characteristics to examine at each of the five maturity levels. Teams worked to clarify the questionnaire, consider concepts that might be out of date, and offer new ideas to add to the model. Our CIDM team will be working on a revision during the coming year and hope to have information about the changes to CIDM members soon.
What else can we tell you? The weather was great. The company fine. New Mexico was new territory for many and Santa Fe it’s ordinary vibrant self. We started with a Fiesta and ended making new good friends and promising to return in 2017 (somewhere in New England). Hope to see all of you there.