JoAnn T. Hackos, PhD
Managers are struggling to identify the changes that are needed in their organizations if they are going to be successful in implementing a content-management solution. Some insist that they can incorporate content management without making significant changes in the roles and responsibilities of staff members. Most of these managers decide to pursue a rudimentary level of single sourcing. Staff members add conditional text to FrameMaker book sections to accommodate differences in software or hardware product versions or other similarly well-structured variables. We refer to this practice as stage 1 single sourcing.
Other managers recognize that they need a more sophisticated form of content management to achieve their goals for reusing content and meeting a wide variety of customer requirements. They encourage staff members to investigate levels of single sourcing that require a complete restructuring of existing information, the use of content-management tools to help track and reassemble content, and links to Web content-management systems that enable dynamic output and customer personalization. Their organizations begin to pursue stage 2 single sourcing (components of content are reassembled into collections by staff members), stage 3 single sourcing (components of content are targeted for automatic assembly into customer-focused collections), and stage 4 single sourcing (components of content are reassembled by customers for their own personal use).
What enables one organization to take a more sophisticated approach to the design and development of its information and another to create a simple reuse design? In part, the answer is size and funding. Larger organizations are more likely to have management support to fund the acquisition and implementation of content-management systems. But size is not, in my observation, the defining factor. I argue that the more mature an organization is, the more likely it will be able to pursue successful development of a content-management solution that enables dynamic publishing.
Content Management Requires Level 3 Process Maturity
I first published the Information Process Maturity Model (IPMM) in 1994 as a chapter inManaging Your Documentation Projects (Wiley, 1994). I later developed a more detailed account of the IPMM in a Technical Communications article (http://www.comtech-serv.com/pdfs/Strategic%20Planning.pdf). The IPMM identifies best practices that are characteristic of more mature and successful technical information organizations. In observing the progress of single-source initiatives and moves into content management, I conclude that organizations will not be successful in implementing full-scale content management without at least a Level 3 in the process maturity model.
Level 3 process maturity is called Organized and Repeatable. A Level 3 organization has its “ducks in a row.” That is, a Level 3 organization has made progress in implementing a number of key practices, the first of which is organizational structure. A Level 3 organization is centrally managed—the writers and other staff members report to a professional information-development manager, although they may also be matrixed to other organization areas, typically product-development teams. In large organizations, more than one management structure may exist, but for the most part, staff members report to professional managers who understand the information-development process.
Without a central organizational structure, individual writers working alone or in very small groups are unlikely to have the ability to garner the institutional support required to pursue a content-management solution. They are more likely able to use existing tools in a limited way individually or in small teams to avoid duplication of effort and enable them to publish content in multiple output media.
Centrally managed teams have managers who provide the leadership and support to develop business cases, communicate the needs to senior management, and get the funding required to move into more sophisticated, and costly, solutions. They also have a structure that can enforce standards and a collaborative working model among all staff members.
In addition to the critical ingredient of organizational structure, a Level 3 publications organization must also have in place sound practices in at least two other key practice areas: information planning and information design. When we look at Level 3 organizations in information planning, we find that they have processes that require a planning phase for all projects, no matter how short. For example, a publications organization at Level 3 develops Information Plans for each new project, outlining the business goals of the project, the audiences being addressed, the extent to which new content must be developed and existing content must be updated, and the time needed to complete the project with the assigned staff. Typically, a Level 3 organization assigns a publications project lead who is responsible for developing the Information Plan for the project, estimating staff and schedule, and ensuring that sufficient resources are available to complete the project by the deadline.
A content-management implementation is a complex project. It requires strong leadership, sound planning, estimating, milestone tracking, and adequate staffing. To be successful, a content-management project needs someone who understands what must be done and knows how to monitor progress, assess risks, and bring the project to a successful conclusion. However, such a leader will not exist or will be frustratingly unsuccessful without a strong, centralized organization behind him or her.
A Level 1 or 2 organization already has a difficult time planning, estimating, and implementing its ordinary projects. It lacks the process skills necessary to carry off a complex project requiring new skills, practices, and processes.
A Level 1 or 2 organization also has staff members who are used to working alone, developing their own projects without much, if any, interaction with colleagues. Typically, staff members do not work in teams and are unfamiliar with a collaborative work environment. To implement a content-management solution, however, requires teamwork and collaboration. It requires that individuals come together and agree on a single structure for the content they create, even when that structure and style may not be “the way I would do it myself.”
Without sufficient dedication to teamwork and collaboration, an organization attempting a complex content-management solution will dissolve into internecine wars.
Information design is a cornerstone of successful content management. If writers do not use standard structures to communicate information, then the opportunities for reuse decline. I find that organizations that have neglected information design have difficulty transforming their content from a book-centric to a topic-centric model. Rather than work within a consistent design model, writers in Levels 1 and 2 organizations are more likely to develop their own books idiosyncratically, without regard to how other books in a library are being developed. Looking across documents, particularly across product lines, our process-maturity audits typically uncover great diversity in the approaches writers take to their information. Procedures are written from different perspectives, some assuming considerable knowledge among the users and others little. Some writers include information about the underlying engineering concepts, while others focus on simple “how to…” information. This lack of a consistent approach to information design at Levels 1 and 2 make the migration to content management and single sourcing extremely challenging.
By Level 3, an organization will have standardized its information design, in part because Level 3 organizations have sufficiently developed their processes to leave time for customer studies. Publications groups that engage in serious customer studies almost always develop information types that support users rather than indulging in individualistic design approaches. The results of customer studies generally lead to streamlining of content and a focus on a smaller number of consistent information types. For example, a design team I advised at a large, multinational company arrived at an elegant design of five simple information types to handle a diverse subject matter. This simplification ensured that they would be ready for content management and successful in their pursuit of the cost savings promised by single sourcing, once the technology became available.
A Level 3 organization typically will have a rudimentary process in place for Quality Management, one of the most difficult of the eight key practices. Quality Management describes a customer-centric approach to information development, rather than a system- or an author-centric approach. With Level 4 process maturity, even more time and resources become available to partner with customers. As a result, information design becomes simpler and better structured, a key ingredient of a successful content-management implementation.
An Implementation Methodology for Single Sourcing
When I begin work with organizations contemplating a move into content management and single sourcing, I insist that we look hard at current processes. In fact, what occurs in an information audit is an abbreviated evaluation of process maturity. This evaluation gives me a good indication of the potential challenges an organization will have in implementing change.
I often advise managers with immature practices that they must first find ways to correct the problems, or they should stay with rudimentary stage 1 single sourcing. They will often be able to achieve some repurposing of content using desktop publishing tools that permit conditional tagging. In that way, they can create help and print documentation from a single document (generally a book) or they can allow for some variation in product-specific content within the book structure. Generally, I suggest that Level 1 organizations carefully consider moving into XML authoring. In most cases, the move is expensive and produces few returns on the investment.
The question remains, however, whether the increases in efficiency from repurposing are sufficient. Organizations, for example, put great effort into producing help systems that are used very little by customers. After much effort, they discover that the customers prefer manuals to unusable help. Single sourcing appears to take on a life of its own in such situations. The writers learn something new, but the users don’t benefit.
The real rewards of content management come from new approaches to the delivery of information to users. The rewards to users come when they can find exactly the information they need to accomplish tasks, make better decisions, and troubleshoot problems efficiently. Successful outcomes derive from content that is thoughtfully designed and well managed so that it can be delivered appropriately for a myriad of existing and new outcomes. Having the focus to design information for users and the time needed to implement a content model that supports the best design requires an effectively managed organization with strong leadership and skilled team members. Level 3 and above in the IPMM represents a strong predictor of success.