Information Process Maturity—How does your organization measure up?

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JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.

As a publications manager or senior information developer, how would you answer any of the questions:

  • Does my organizational structure, including the current reporting structure for my organization, promote my efforts to produce quality technical information for customers?
  • Do I have a system in place, including developmental editing and technical reviews, that successfully promotes the quality of my information deliverables?
  • Do I have a planning process in place that ensures that our information products meet the needs of customers in addition to meeting deadlines?
  • Do I have processes in place to estimate the time and costs of each information-development project we undertake to ensure that the value delivered is worth the expenditure of resources?
  • Am I directly responsible for hiring qualified individuals worldwide and ensuring that they have access to product and professional training?
  • Do I encourage my staff to pursue innovations in information design and delivery rather than continuing to publish the same documents year after year?
  • Do I know exactly how much the work done by my organization costs, including the cost of innovations, tools improvements, and basic information development?
  • Do I actively promote activities that will improve the quality of the information we deliver, including customer studies and feedback from customer-facing groups?
  • Am I aware of the importance of collaboration to improve quality and reduce costs and do I actively promote collaboration activities in my organization?
  • Do I have a change-management plan in place so that we can introduce innovations, tools, and methods without undue resistance from internal and external staff? Do I have the executive management team on my side?

For each of these questions, can you answers, “yes,” with the assurance that the processes are well-defined, communicated, and an integral part of your day-to-day management. Or, are you answering, “yes,” to some of the questions with the full knowledge that you could be doing a lot better. Having done something once or twice does not mean that the activity has become an institutionalized way of working.

If your responses to the questions are largely negative, you could profit from an Information Process Maturity Model (IPMM) assessment. The assessment gives you a comprehensive reading on the state of your organization in comparison with best-in-class publications organizations worldwide. And, the assessment provides you with concrete recommendations for improving the maturity of your processes.

How did the IPMM get started?

In 1992, in response to the development by the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) of a maturity model for software development, I began development of an IPMM. The IPMM was originally designed to fill a gap in SEI’s model, which did not address the functions performed by technical communicators in a software organization. However, the IPMM quickly became the primary model available for examining the maturity of an information-development organization.

To develop the initial IPMM, I enlisted the participation of two groups: senior managers whose organizations were widely considered exemplars of information development at the time and a small group of acknowledged experts in technical communication. Twelve organizations and six experts made up the advisory board for the IPMM. We conducted detailed analyses of each of the 12 organizations to understand how they were organized and how they did their work. From those analyses, the managers and team of experts devised the five IPMM levels and defined eight key characteristics. We defined five levels for each characteristic and developed a comprehensive questionnaire and methodology for assessing organizations.

In 1994, with the publication of my book, Managing Your Documentation Projects, I published the results. In 2004 and 2006, we updated the IPMM to include two additional key characteristics: Collaboration and Change Management. These characteristics accounted for new pressures on information developers to acquire content management systems and reduce costs through single sourcing and information reuse. Such reuse, we determined again with the help of CIDM members and experts, required an investment in collaboration.

In my 2006 book, Information Development: Managing Your Documentation Projects, Portfolio, and People, I reviewed the IPMM, published the two additional key characteristics, and updated many of the definitions. At the same time, we updated the IPMM questionnaire.

What Are the Five Levels?

The five levels of the IPMM provide you with a model both to assess your current organization and to set your sights on process improvement. The IPMM gives you a blueprint for change by capturing the characteristics of successful organizations that routinely meet or exceed customer expectations.

The five levels of process maturity for information-development organizations are described in Table 1.

IPMM Level

Description

Transition to the next level

Level 1:
Ad-hoc

Ad-hoc organizations are characterized chiefly by a lack of structure and uniform practices. Information developers generally work alone, most often hired and managed by someone from another field, such as engineering or software development. As a result of working alone, each individual follows a unique process and applies standards independently. The quality of the final product is highly dependent on the professionalism and expertise of the individual. No quality assurance activities take place except for reviews for technical accuracy. There is little opportunity to understand the needs of the customer.

To move to Level 2, the organization usually needs to build cooperation among individual communicators. In most cases, a management position is created and a department organized. The information developers report to the publications manager and work together in a department.

The manager and department members understand the need for common processes and design standards for the publications or other information products of the department.

Level 2: Rudimentary

Rudimentary organizations are in the process of putting their structures and standards in place. Initially, the group of information developers collaborates to establish style standards and institute uniform practices. At a management level, a new manager and a new department bring together formerly isolated information developers. The new manager must work to create a unified organization in the face of opposition from staff who were once autonomous.

The manager and staff begin to institute quality assurance practices, including copyediting, developmental editing, and peer reviews. Despite good intentions, the rudimentary new practices are often abandoned under pressure of deadlines and constantly changing requirements, as well as lack of commitment among the staff to changing individual practices.

Level 2 can be a difficult and awkward transition period.

To move to Level 3, the organization and its leadership must make a firm commitment to following the processes and standards put into place. They need a standard set of templates, a style guide, a project workflow, and sound processes in place to plan, estimate, and track projects.

Level 3: Organized and Repeatable

Organized and repeatable organizations have come of age after passing through the fire of Level 2. Now the majority of the staff support and are committed to following uniform processes, templates, and standards. They are convinced that the best practices they have put in place constitute the right way to run an information-development department. Their move has been supported by a strong leader who has a vision for the organization and its future and is helping the staff realize that vision.

The leader and staff recognize the importance of sound planning and quality assurance activities, and they are incorporated into every project. Attention is given to hiring qualified individuals and providing them with opportunities for continuing education.

Because processes work so well, staff begin to find opportunities for improvement, including redesign of legacy information, customer studies, and benchmarking with other organizations.

To move to Level 4 requires a firm commitment to follow high-quality practices not only within the organization but in relationship to peer organizations. Everyone needs to commit to project planning, estimating and scheduling, and editing and reviews, even when it’s difficult and they are pressed for time. If not already begun, customer studies need to be vigorously pursued.

Level 4: Managed and Sustainable

A managed and sustainable organization has made a strong and consistent commitment to the mature practices of a Level 3 organization. In fact, the leadership may change without a loss of commitment to planning, quality assurance, hiring and training, and budgetary controls. Level 4 organizations become increasingly sophisticated in handling customer studies, assessing and meeting customer needs (including regular usability analysis), and managing return on investment.

Level 4 organizations are often recognized as effective by the larger organization. In many cases, staff members participate in a matrixed structure in which they represent the interests and goals of information development regarding product design, support, training, human factors, and other parts of the organization. Managers are often directors or vice presidents and are recognized for their business acumen. Frequently, they serve on business leadership teams.

To move to Level 5, the leadership needs to increase their business understanding. They need to strengthen their commitment to increasing productivity, controlling and reducing costs, focusing on customer satisfaction, and aligning strategically with overall business goals and objectives.

Level 5: Optimizing

An optimizing organization is characterized by a level of sustaining innovation beyond the commitment to mature practices of a Level 4 organization. An optimizing organization continually calls into question its own practices and standards by continually seeking ways of meeting customer needs more effectively, reducing process and production costs, and developing innovations that will increase the effectiveness and profitability of the company.

A Level 5 organization continues its efforts to improve all practices throughout the organization, not only those in its own department. It seeks alignments with other strategic departments.

At Level 5, we see an organization with a special focus on customer needs. Staff members are knowledgeable about customers, continually seek customer contributions to improve quality, and measure the success of their innovations.

This organization has a strong and sustainable commitment to developing best practices through regular industry benchmarking.

 

What are the Ten Key Characteristics of the IPMM?

During an IPMM assessment, we evaluate an organization according to ten key characteristics. These characteristics help to describe how a successful information-development organization functions. The focus, of course, is on structure, process, and best practices. We firmly believe that there is a close correspondence between the behaviors outlined by the ten key characteristics and the ability of the staff to produce excellent information products.

Table 2 provides a brief outline of the ten key characteristics. A complete IPMM assessment includes many more distinctions about the nature of activities within each level.

Characteristic

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5

Organizational Structure
An organizational structure that enables information developers to produce consistently high-quality work.

Information developers work for technical managers.

Information developers usually work alone or in small groups.

A centralized information-development organization is in place.

The organization manager is knowledgeable about information development.

A senior manager designates leads for individual projects.

Specialized job functions have been developed.

Information developers are in a matrixed organization, reporting to a central group but working closely with cross-functional project teams.

Information developers have leadership roles on cross-functional project teams and with peer organizations.

Quality Assurance
A series of activities specifically designed to promote uniform high standards of quality, including copyediting, developmental editing, peer reviews, and technical reviews of draft information products. Includes usability testing and customer studies to ensure that the quality achieved meets customer needs.

Information developers are responsible for their own quality assurance.

Few or no corporate-wide standards and best practices are in place.

Standards are in place and designated individuals have begun to be responsible for maintaining the standards.

Designated individuals (editors) are responsible for maintaining standards.

Developmental editing is in place to assist in developing consistent information design and architecture.

Usability assessments are a standard part of the information-development process.

The outcomes of quality assurance activities are measured as part of a continuous improvement process.

Planning
Activities to ensure that every information product meets customer needs as well as the demands of schedule and budget. Includes the development of adequate resources and budget to ensure that required quality standards are met.

Individuals sometimes create Information Plans.

A standard Information Plan is in place and followed for many projects.

All projects begin with Information Plans.

A standard information-development process is followed by staff.

Plans are regularly reviewed to encourage innovation and cost control.

The planning process is measured to ensure that productivity and performance goals are achieved.

Estimating and Scheduling
Activities to ensure that the information-development process is being followed to meet schedule and budget requirements. Includes project tracking to assess and accommodate the impact of project changes and changes to customer requirements through the course of the project. Establishes project histories to better inform planning for future projects.

Assignments are made without knowing if they can be accomplished by the deadline while maintaining quality.

Information developers apply guesses to determine if they can complete projects by the deadline while maintaining quality.

Projects are carefully estimated according to data on previous projects.

Projects are carefully tracked to ensure they will be successful.

Projects are estimated and tracked so that adjustments can be made to resources, schedules, and scope of work in response to requirements changes.

Complete development projects are scheduled and tracked, and they include the requirements to meet quality goals in information development.

Hiring and Training
Information developers are hired by knowledgeable professionals in the field, and hiring is based on a wide range of clearly defined professional requirements.

Once hired, information developers are provided with internal and external opportunities for continuing training so that best practices in the field are understood and maintained.

Information developers are hired by technical and other managers. They are typically hired for technical and tools expertise rather than information-development skills and training.

No regular training is provided.

Information developers are hired by knowledgeable managers and peers for technical and tools skills and sometimes for expertise in information development.

Training is provided occasionally by request.

Information developers are hired for their expertise in specific specializations.

Training is considered a required part of each person’s professional development.

The skills of senior information developers are leveraged through hiring of entry-level staff.

Training and mentoring are provided internally, and external opportunities for growth are regularly provided in specialized areas.

Information-development managers are provided with management training and development opportunities to increase their understanding of business objectives.

Publications Design
Activities to ensure that the organization is following the best practices in the industry. Design innovations are regularly introduced based upon research in the field, usability testing, customer studies, and practices learned through exposure to the work and ideas of industry leaders.

Information developers may design the publications they produce. However, the designs are often heavily influenced by others in the organization, including non-experts in engineering, programming, and marketing. Few or no information design standards are in place.

Information developers are fully responsible for the design of their publications, although outside influence may still be a factor.

Standards are being developed with incomplete compliance.

Some specialization in design and publishing functions may be in place.

Information developers are fully responsible for the design of publications, following departmental or corporate standards they have established.

Compliance with standards is complete.

Specialized functions for design, graphics, editing, production, and others are in place.

Information developers, working with teams of specialists, are actively pursuing design innovations and testing these with users. They are aware of industry standards and best practices and compare their work with best-in-class designs.

Information developers actively contribute to the design of product interfaces.

Information developers are actively engaged in sharing their design expertise with others in the industry and developing and disseminating industry best practices.

Cost Control
The publications organization has budget authority for its activities and carefully tracks the costs of its development projects. Costs are well understood and regularly evaluated in terms of return on investment and value added. Budgets are defined by the need to achieve a stated level of quality in information products.

Costs are determined by headcount assigned. Total costs may include printing, distribution, and localization and translation.

Publications organizations have assigned headcount. Departmental budget allocations for training, printing, and localization and translation are beginning to be the responsibility of the manager.

The publications organization has a budget controlled by the manager who submits budget requests.

The organization is active in cost-reduction activities and reports on these activities to senior management.

Senior management is well aware of the quality cost associated with publications, through the communication efforts of publication management.

Efforts to reduce costs and increase productivity are well received by senior management.

Publications managers have instituted a continuous improvement process to reduce costs while maintaining or improving customer quality.

Quality Management
A series of activities directed toward complete and well-informed definitions of quality, including regular studies of customers’ needs, regular usability assessments, regular assessment of customer satisfaction with products, regular assessment of the impact of poor quality on training, support, sales, and others. Strong communication of goals and strategies to senior management and peer managers. Recognition by the larger organization of the value added by technical communication activities.

No mechanism exists to measure quality of output. Quality is often equated with making deadlines.

The publications manager and staff are beginning to investigate ways to measure quality besides meeting deadlines.

Customer complaints are addressed.

The organization is active in defining, measuring, and managing customer-driven quality.

Customers are regularly polled and their issues addressed.

Benchmark studies are pursued for the first time. Competitors’ information is evaluated.

All aspects of customer-driven quality are regularly assessed, including satisfaction with information, calls to support, and complaints.

Benchmarking is a regular part of the process.

Staff members have acknowledged expertise in the field at defining quality in publications.

The organization is actively engaged in developing quality standards in the larger organization.

An understanding has been established between the quality of information and the success and profitability of products and services.

Change Management
Mature organizations engage in continuous improvement, requiring a high degree of skill in managing change. With sound change management skills in place, organizations increase the likelihood that innovations will be embraced. Managers promote the business and personal values associated with innovation and help team members understand the benefits that innovation will bring even when requiring changes in work practice.

Information developers have no mechanism available to foster change in their practices or design. Only personal persuasion and the practices of interested parties may help changes to occur.

With new consolidation of individual information developers into groups led by a professional manager, change becomes an integral part of achieving process maturity. In fact, change is at the heart of a Level 2 organization. However, since change is new and everything is changing, managers at Level 2 may not have developed a protocol supporting best practices in change management.

The information-development manager has introduced a change-management protocol to the organization in hopes of consolidating gains won by achieving Level 3 of process maturity and providing a mechanism for introducing additional change.

Managers have integrated change management best practices into the organization so that all team members understand what they need to do to foster continuous change. Communication about change is an integral part of the organizational culture.

All team members are able to manage change within the organization and to work with colleagues in other parts of the larger community to foster change.

Collaboration
Collaboration defines the practices used in information-development organizations to promote teamwork throughout the information-development life cycle. A collaborative organization works together throughout the life cycle phases of planning, design, development, publishing, and evaluation. Collaboration supports the development of content that can be shared among multiple deliverables and customized for specific audiences. Collaboration promotes the goal of creating and maintaining complete and consistent information for customers. Collaboration extends beyond the boundaries of the professional information developers to a community of information providers that may include training, customer support, product development, marketing, suppliers, partners, and the customers themselves.

Information developers work independently, designing and developing their content in isolation from other information developers in their organization.

Information developers occasionally coordinate their efforts to avoid producing the same content more than one time. They occasionally find opportunities to share content developed by other team members, typically through a manual cut-and-paste process.

Information developers are encouraged to form teams to plan, design, and develop content regarding the related products or processes. Opportunities for sharing content among deliverables increases because developers are more aware of the content being created by their colleagues. Developers frequently form self-organized and managed teams to jointly produce a robust result.

Information developers regularly engage in collaborative processes that include planning, design, development, and review. Team members trust and respect the work of colleagues, believing that together they can build superior products to those that they can build individually. Project managers and team leads facilitate collaboration as a core business practice.

Information developers regularly collaborate with colleagues from other parts of the organization and outside the organization as appropriate, encouraging a free flow of information and frequent interactions. They are continually looking for new opportunities to collaborate. At the same time, they find ways to avoid constant meetings that threaten to bog down progress. As professional communicators, information developers help foster communication among colleagues who may not be as effective as communicators. They work together to develop new ideas that are greater than the ideas offered by any individual team member or domain expert along.

 

Are You Ready for an IPMM Assessment?

If you are thinking about an IPMM assessment for your organization, think about the following issues:

  • Is your organization pursuing other process maturity studies, especially for the engineering development organizations?
  • Do you have support from your executive management? Are they open to supporting the potential for organizational change to improve the quality, timeliness, and cost of information development?
  • Do you have the support of your staff members? Will they participate in the assessment by completing a questionnaire and meeting one-on-one with the IPMM consultant?
  • Are you open to looking at both strengths and weaknesses in your organization and dedicated to process improvement?

If you can answer “yes” to each of these questions, you will profit from an IPMM assessment. Let us know how we can help get the process started.

Dr. JoAnn Hackos is the CIDM Director.

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