Vesa Purho
Development Manager, Nokia

During this year and last, I wrote many articles about understanding and using various tools created for marketing and business development also in documentation. Now because the economy still isn’t picking up, business understanding becomes more and more valuable for us to survive during reorganisation, to continue to provide value to the customer, and to keep our sanity.

Understanding the basics about business development and competition strategies can help us to decide where to focus our scarce resources. In my experience, the majority of documentation personnel, at least here in Finland, have a language background and are not educated in business or engineering. Such people have a tendency to look at the documentation from the “goodness” point-of-view and not necessarily to think about how well the documentation fulfills the business goals of a company.

Sometimes, we just need to let go and deliver something that we would not normally do. For example, if the survival of a product depends on the price, we need to take price into account when thinking about what kind of documentation we deliver with the product. Top management will set budget limits, but I hope that understanding why and what the goals of the company are regarding the product will diminish our stress factor and that we will stop fighting the windmills.

Naturally, there are bad and good ways to save money. Reducing the scope of documentation is one of the good ways. You need to know what are the most important documents that the users need and then create only those documents. This requires another kind of business understanding, understanding the business of your customers. Or, you could eliminate some of the functionality of the documentation, like an index. A bad way to save money is to tell the writers to do whatever they like within the budget. Then, you will have one writer who decides not to proofread, another who reduces the graphics, and a third who omits testing the documentation against the product. These decisions may have saved money, but the documentation probably isn’t fulfilling the customer’s needs or your business needs.

On the other hand, sometimes we have to argue against the budget cuts. Understanding the business models helps you to back up your arguments. If the target is to reduce the customer’s operating costs or if the competitive strategy is to focus on markets that are ready to pay premium price for a quality product, a good user interface and documentation are essential. Again, understanding the customers’ business helps you in determining how important the documentation actually is and what documentation they actually need.

So, my call for action is to study the basics of business development. You don’t need an MBA to understand the basics and how they can be applied in documentation. Another action you need to take is to talk to your marketing and product management people and find out the strategies they are developing. Tell them that you can do your part in realising the strategies if they are willing to share them with you.

This article is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion or practice of Nokia.