JoAnn Hackos, PhD
CIDM Director

In 1994, I developed the Information Process Maturity Model (IPMM) in response to the need for a process standard for the information-development community. The IPMM has always focused on eight key characteristics that help separate immature from mature organizations. The eight key characteristics that have been included in the model from the beginning are
Organizational structure
Information planning
Estimating, scheduling, and tracking of projects
Quality assurance activities
Hiring and training of staff
Information design and innovation
Cost and budgetary controls
Quality and customer management

These key characteristics provide those engaged in an IPMM assessment a basis for making the improvements needed to move to a Level 3 or higher (among five levels) of maturity from their present position.

For my most recent detailed description of the IPMM and a review of the eight key characteristics, read my 2004 Best Practices article.

At present, I am writing a new management book, called Managing Documentation Projects: New Methods for the Complete Information Development Lifecycle. In the new book, which includes managing at a department or organization level as well as at the project level, I am adding at least one new characteristic to the eight key characteristics.

The ninth key characteristic is Collaboration. I believe that building a collaborative working environment must be addressed specifically in our assessments in the future. The practice in which information developers work alone, responsible for defining and creating content based upon their interactions with subject-matter experts, is clearly a characteristic of an immature, Level 1 or 2 organization. A lack of collaboration is a key characteristic of an organization that develops information using ad-hoc processes.

Given the need to share content among deliverables (single sourcing) and the need to ensure that customers receive consistent and complete information to guide their performance with a product or process, information developers must become increasingly collaborative in their working environment. It is no longer acceptable for writers to work in isolation on their proverbial mountain tops.

In adding collaboration as a key characteristic of the IPMM, I suggest the following descriptions at each of the five levels:

Level 1 Information developers work independently, designing and developing their content in isolation from other developers in their organization.
Level 2 Information developers occasionally coordinate their efforts to avoid producing the same content more than one time. They occasionally find opportunities to share content developed by other team members, typically through a cut-and-paste process.
Level 3 Information developers are encouraged to form teams to plan, design, and develop content regarding the same product or process. Opportunities for sharing content among deliverables increases because developers are more aware of the content being created by their colleagues. Developers frequently form self-organized teams to jointly produce a result.
Level 4 Information developers regularly engage in collaborative processes that include planning, design, development, and review. Team members trust and respect the work of colleagues, believing that together they can build more superior products than they could individually. Project managers and team leads facilitate collaboration as a core business practice.
Level 5 Information developers regularly collaborate with colleagues from other parts of the organization, encouraging a free flow of information and frequent interactions. They are continually looking for new opportunities to collaborate. At the same time, they find ways to avoid constant meetings that threaten to bog down progress. As professional communicators, information developers help foster communication among colleagues who are not effective communicators. They work together to develop new ideas that are more than the ideas offered by any individual team members or domain experts.

As I talk with information-development managers worldwide, visit their organizations, meet with staff members, and conduct IPMM assessments, it’s clear that collaboration is on everyone’s “to-do” list. At the same time, establishing a collaborative working environment when everyone is accustomed to working independently is no trivial matter. Even enthusiastic participants fall back to previous behaviors when they are under pressure of deadlines. As the stress levels increase, they retreat to what they already know how to do.

I also find a characteristically high level of personal responsibility among information developers. They want to produce excellent work, and they assume the responsibility for making sure that everything comes out right at the end of their information-development process. They are often reluctant to cede responsibility to others for the final quality of their product. They are also reluctant to use information that has been developed by colleagues, especially if those colleagues are not personally known and trusted.

Nonetheless, I also find that the same information developers acknowledge that they can no longer do the “whole job.” The technologies and requirements have become too complex, and the deadlines too short and stressful. The entire team has to work together to make certain that everything is done and done well.

With the introduction of a content-management environment and topic-based authoring, information developers find themselves under increasing pressure to collaborate. Documents that were once the total responsibility of one information developer are now joint efforts to which many authors contribute, including people outside one’s immediate professional circle.

The move to topic-based authoring, DITA, content management, continuous publishing, and multiple deliverables adds to the importance we must place on a collaborative working environment.

For these reasons and more, I have concluded that to operate at a mature level, we need to build collaboration into our work practices.

Palmer Pearson, director of operations at Cadence Design Systems, had this to say on adding collaboration to the IPMM:

“First let me say that I think collaboration is one of the most important factors needed to truly impact any organization. On the wall behind my desk I have a framed ad I removed from Business Week about a year ago. It is of a man dressed in a business suit in front of a building on a busy New York street. He is holding a picket sign that reads, “Collaborate or Die”. I guess I related to the message. (I was fortunate enough to win a company-wide Cross-Functional award for my work with the Support organization.)

“First hand knowledge shows that you can directly map success (maturity) of a process based upon the value placed on collaboration. Frequent management changes can also cause the collaborative effect to ebb and flow. To be able to enter into a level 4 or 5, the concept must be engrained in the culture and not even noticed. It is the way to get things done.

“Our information developers do not work alone as single subject matter experts, and depending on which business unit you work for, the maturity level changes drastically (here it ranges from a 2 to glimpses of a 4). Part of this is due to the multiple personality disorder of a centralized/decentralized organization. That, of course is a subject that deserves attention all on its own. But it is an important factor to be mentioned. Decentralized groups add an additional layer to the need to collaborate. It is the internal structure that has been mandated. Higher level companies know this and empower the various teams to jointly solve problems and deal with new challenges. Those who do not see that are relegated to not moving beyond a level 2.

“Clearly, the technical communications field is going through another major shift in tools and techniques. No one can face all of the changes without collaboration. Not to belabor the point, but that is the driving factor behind my expanding the Technical Publications Innovation Council (five regional teams now!)

“I feel that this is a very valuable area to stress and evaluate. Collaboration is becoming more critical as each product release goes out the door. Those who are in a position to affect change must understand this—the importance of sharing knowledge and teaming is mandatory.”

I would be happy to hear from those of you who agree or disagree with this addition to the IPMM.

Planning an IPMM Assessment in 2006
If you have been thinking about an IPMM assessment for your organization, now is the time to contact us. We hope in 2006 to increase the number of assessments completed for CIDM members and colleagues. You will find the assessments are solid, fair, comprehensive, and provide lasting value.

Consider Charlie Dowdell, manager of publications at The Raymond Corporation, who had us conduct an IPMM assessment in 2005:

“The IPMM assessment created a benchmark and a strategic starting place for continued process development. After the IPMM, we created a development matrix and prioritized decisions regarding development focus. I keep the IPMM findings close by, and I am still referencing it almost two years after the assessment was complete.”

From Philippe Cornette, head of publications at SWIFT in Brussels:

“Concerning the progress, things are moving smoothly. We have started to implement your recommendations. We had a very good offsite meeting with the Userdoc team at the end of November to make everybody part of the improvement process.”

Please fill out the form below to discuss your IPMM assessment and to get it onto the 2006 schedule. I’m sure you will be pleased with the knowledge you gain and the opportunities you will learn about to create a world-class organization.