Diane Davis
Synopsys, Inc.

After developing a vision, Synopsys is now implementing a comprehensive program to radically transform the way we produce and deliver documentation. For such a far-reaching change to be accepted and supported, it is essential that

  • staff members and executives clearly understand the scope of the vision in terms of its potential benefit to Synopsys and our customers
  • we generate a sense of urgency and excitement that enables staff members to willingly give up familiar procedures and try out a radically new approach

Although Synopsys is a highly technical company, it is hard for people outside the publications department to understand XML and its capabilities. Explaining to Synopsys employees the potential of XML to “provide technical information tailored interactively to meet individual customer needs,” for example, has proved to be quite challenging.

Thinking that I needed clearer steps and illustrations to communicate these concepts, I started updating my vision slides and began making presentations using PowerPoint. Still seeing glazed looks from the attendees, I thought the problem was with the slides themselves. I reworded the slides and changed the organization, but I was still getting the sense that my audiences didn’t comprehend what I was presenting. I even wondered whether I had lost my touch as a speaker. After analyzing feedback from presentation attendees, I finally realized that I needed a completely different approach. Instead of struggling to understand an abstraction, my audience needed to see a concrete example of an XML application before they could grasp the concept.

I soon identified a project that provided a perfect opportunity to develop an XML application. My department had been working with two of our competitors, Cadence and Mentor Graphics, to develop a standard glossary for the electronic design automation industry, and the complex needs of this project made it a perfect candidate to benefit from XML.

Why was this project so ideally suited to demonstrate the power of XML?

Because we are competitors, each company has many glossary terms used by the others, but the terms are not defined in exactly the same way. Each company has its own glossary, but representatives from each company have agreed to review the terms in each other’s glossaries in an effort to arrive at a comprehensive glossary. That’s where the nightmare begins:

  • How do the representatives keep track of the glossary terms they have reviewed?
  • How do they keep track of which definitions have been edited, reviewed by subject matter experts, and approved to be included in the glossary?
  • What happens if one company does not approve a specific term? Does it mean that the term is not included in the glossary?
  • What if each company wants to use the agreed-upon glossary but also to include some of its own terms that are not agreed upon?

Because it would be a nightmare to try to keep track of these issues through email, the project at one point seemed almost certain to be dropped. None of the companies had the resources to devote an employee to track the required information, so we were casting about for a way to keep this very worthwhile project going.

Enter my information architect. He immediately proposed creating an XML application accessible to users over the web in which each glossary term could be tracked according to who made the changes, whether it had been edited or approved, and by which companies.

Because the glossary would be developed in an XML application, the content and the output could be generated in numerous ways:

  • Each company could generate the agreed-upon glossary in FrameMaker, XML, HTML, or PDF.
  • Each company could generate a glossary of only the terms that its representatives agreed to include in the glossary.
  • A glossary could be generated from a combination of any two of the three companies: terms agreed to by only Synopsys and Cadence, by Cadence and Mentor Graphics, or by Mentor Graphics and Synopsys.

While my information architect was developing the application, representatives from each company were reviewing their own glossaries. A combined file has now been created with all the terms—about 1500 currently. Although there is a lot of work yet to do, the project is now viable because the XML application stores so much information and provides so much flexibility.

With an identified XML project that would provide a concrete example, I switched from slides to a demonstration of the application, which I could bring up on-screen and show to my audiences. As I expected, I no longer receive glazed looks when I discuss the potential benefits of XML. Employees can easily relate to the glossary application and appreciate its power and usefulness.

Although I feel much better now about my ability to communicate the power of XML, I still need to develop a more effective way to inspire people about the overall vision. The glossary application is impressive in its own right, but it is just a prototype of the vision, which can include almost limitless ways to “provide technical information tailored interactively to meet individual customer needs.” Finding more effective ways to demonstrate and explain the potential of the overall vision is still a challenge.