Can Collaboration Create Your Content Tipping Point?

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Julie A. Bradbury
Group Director, Knowledge Transfer Organization
Cadence Design Systems, Inc. (Recently retired)

In his book, The Tipping Point (Little Brown 2000), Malcolm Gladwell explains how little changes can have big effects. The Cadence Design Content Collaboration Initiative is a little change that is beginning to have a positive effect on content development at our company. It’s not the epidemic that Gladwell describes, but it may be on the way to becoming one. Content Collaboration is a grass-roots response to the business need that asks groups to do more, more quickly, with fewer resources.

What Is It?

Content Collaboration is a system that purposefully brings together content-creators from various business departments. In our electronic design automation company, content creating groups include product engineering, customer training, customer support, field support, and technical publications, to name a few. Each group creates content at different points in the product-development life cycle for various internal and external customers. While different in presentation, the information can usually be repurposed for most customers, initially by leveraging what has already been researched and created by another group.

Content collaboration is a team effort. As the groups begin collaborating across the development cycle and outside their organization boundaries, they start noticing gains in one or more of these areas:

  • saving research time
  • increasing technical review efficiency
  • reusing training labs
  • improving (reducing) the cycle time of content development
  • increasing content reuse and repurposing
  • increasing quality

What Are the Group Dynamics?

One of the benefits of content collaboration is in the development of working relationships with other cross-functional team members. Once the immediate project is done, those helping relationships continue.

—Julie Thomas, Publications Director, Integrated Circuit Design at Cadence Design Systems

In Content Collaboration pilots, each group reviews the timeline for creating and delivering their content and looks for opportunities to interact. They work out answers to these and other tactical questions:

  • What’s the best way to share information as it is created—a repository, a Web site?
  • What information can be reused to avoid rework?
  • Who can best review content for technical accuracy in the most efficient way?
  • What labs can be recycled from field training into customer training?
  • What information is redundant and easily found in other groups’ deliverables?

The teams that invested in collaboration have shared their experiences with other business groups, and the practice is spreading. A year ago, we started with one collaboration pilot and now there are six active groups in various parts of the business.

What Situations Invite Collaboration?

Pooling resources, even across organizations, can help you step up to increased productivity demands, but you may have to go against the classic business expectations that reward individual contributions. Rewards come from leveraging the work of others. Yes, there will be modifications, but the emphasis is building on what others have done or using their expertise to enrich what you are developing.

In their recent book, Content Critical (Prentice 2002), Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton cite environments that are conducive to collaboration. While their comments relate to producing one deliverable, these comments can also be applied to writing that crosses several disciplines and multiple deliverables. They say,

“Collaborative writing works best where

  • there is a major content creation task at hand that ideally demands the input of multiple disciplines
  • the content job can be broken up into clearly defined segments that can be allocated to individual authorsHowever, just allocating pieces of work to people is not collaboration. Unless there is strong interaction between authors and an overall sense of direction and styles is jointly established, you will not achieve the true potential of collaboration.
  • there are tight publication deadlines, which mean that a number of authors are more likely to deliver a quality result on time
  • there is a well thought-through set of processes to facilitate collaboration.”

(McGovern and Norton, Content Critical, 2002, p. 95)

How Do You Start a Team of Content Collaborators?

My business partner (Bill Piexoto, Director, Cadence Education Services) and I acted as catalysts by convening content collaboration kickoff meetings for all content creators in each business unit. In The Tipping Point, we’d be called connectors.

  • We identified an executive sponsor and included him or her in the initial meetings.
  • We brought along the leaders from the early pilots to talk about their groups and their implementation.
  • We invited the attendees to form their own Content Collaboration team.
  • To move forward, the new team had to appoint a point person to handle communication and facilitate meetings.
  • They also had to identify one product to act as their pilot effort; new products are often good choices. With a new product, there is no working environment to change, and the product is often a priority. All groups are beginning with a fresh starting point, which makes it more advantageous for collaboration.

Fortunately, Content Collaboration is evolutionary, and each team will have its special practices, but the concept is the same—if you collaborate, you reap productivity and quality gains.

What Business Results Can You Get?

Savings in time and resources, richer information, content reuse and repurposing, and improved communication are positive outcomes.

Content Collaboration results in productivity improvements:

  • 6 weeks saved in training course development time (~$16,800). The flow guides were developed and used by documentation, training, and customer support for consistency and as training aids in the classroom.
  • 9 weeks saved in course development time (~$25,200). Lab and lecture development was coordinated across functional groups.

Content Collaboration results in increased quality:

  • Publications, customer support, and education services closed 77 PCRs (trouble reports) and used consistent terminology and formats across the product content.
  • Publications leveraged customer support expertise for targeted technical reviews that matched expertise with particular documentation chapters. Segmenting the technical reviews was a wise use of time and technical knowledge. The review feedback was richer because focused participation allowed our technical experts to provide feedback where they were most knowledgeable.

Contact Information

To get answers to your questions and any updates, contact Bill Piexoto, Director, Education Services, Cadence Design Systems, Inc., 408 944-7570, or email him at Info@cadence.com.

References

The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown and Company
Boston, MA: 2000
ISBN: 0316316962

Content Critical
Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton
Financial Times Prentice Hall
Great Britain, UK: 2002
ISBN: 027365604X

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