Vesa Purho
Development Manager, Nokia

In the beginning of April, I moved back to management after being in a research position for almost three years. At first, I had mixed feelings because I thought the change in position meant that I would no longer be working that much with customer documentation issues, a subject I feel somewhat attached to after doing research on it for a few years. But there I was, managing a small group of people responsible for giving support to the users of our documentation tools.

I had time to do some reading. I read Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster (Perseus, 2001) by Bill Jensen, Content Management for Dynamic Web Delivery (Wiley, 2002) by JoAnn Hackos, and Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (Que, 2000) by Steve Krug. Suddenly, well actually gradually because it was not like a lightning strike, I started seeing things differently. We are supporting the users of our documentation tools and methods, which means that we have some guidance documents (user manuals), our documentation info bank (troubleshooting information), and Web pages that give general information about our tools and standards. We even have a help desk mail address and phone number (technical support). So, my group actually is like a customer documentation group; our customers just happen to be the writers, coordinators, project managers, and others that are involved in creating the customer documents.

One thing I missed when doing the research work was that I was only remotely in control of implementing any of the ideas I studied. All I could do was recommend that certain practices be adopted and give consultation when somebody needed guidance in adopting them. In this new position, though, I can really implement all the ideas, and what’s even better than implementing ideas in our customer documentation, is that I have reasonably easy access to my users. I can easily do user studies and usability evaluations. And I can see the effects of my actions in the activity of our help desk operations.

Now I have plans for creating an information model that covers the needs of our user community. We will see if we can arrange the information so that the users can find it more efficiently. For that purpose, I will use the practices described in JoAnn Hackos’s book. I’m also hoping to adopt some of the simplicity and clarity principles presented in Bill Jensen’s book to make the work in our group more efficient. When designing the intranet services, the usability advice from Steve Krug is valuable.

If you are in a similar position, responsible for supporting your technical documentation personnel, or any other personnel for that matter, I think it is very beneficial to think about them as the users you support and adopt the good principles we have created in the customer documentation field. In following best practices, you will help your customers concentrate on their work by providing the information they need to perform their technology tasks easily.

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