Bill Hackos, PhD
Comtech Services, Inc.

JoAnn Welcome Carol Barnum Ginny Redish CharlieDowdell
JoAnn Hackos Carol Barnum Ginny Redish Charlie Dowdell


About 160 of us attended the ninth annual Best Practices Conference in suburban Atlanta in mid September. The Château Élan Resort was outstanding despite its faux French pretensions. The Château showed its true heritage however, with the Southern cuisine of the Banquet.

Of course, the reason we were assembled at the Château was to exchange ideas about the business of information development. And what outstanding ideas they were!

JoAnn Hackos, Director of The Center for Information-Development Management (CIDM) opened the conference with a welcome to all participants. She introduced our keynote speaker, Carol Barnum, Professor of Information Design and Communication, at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia. Carol opened our eyes to the fact that only 5% of the world’s people are North Americans, only 11% are Europeans, and that only 5% speak English as a first language. She helped us understand that we must be flexible in our dealings with customers and colleagues from other cultures. We are in the minority.

All in all the presentation quality was excellent. To highlight just a few…

A panel discussion lead by industry leaders described methods they have developed to write documentation to multiple media, including paper, the web, PDAs, and cell phones.

Another panel described speakers’ experiences using Agile information-development techniques. Some were working with developers doing Agile development, but others are using Agile techniques even though their developers are not. These techniques are likely to affect how information development is managed for all of us.

An interactive session, the Open Leadership Forum, divided participants into groups to brainstorm ideas about information-development issues. What makes a good leader? What are the primary obstacles to leadership in the industry?

A group from Cisco Systems showed us how they use wikis to facilitate collaborative information development. They discussed benefits and threats to using wikis.

Our guest speaker at the Conference Banquet was Janice (Ginny) Redish, president of Redish & Associates, Inc. in Bethesda, MD. She showed us how to produce good websites, with lots of good (and some really bad) web site examples. Ginny has just published her new book, Letting Go of the Words (Morgan Kauffman 2007).

Also at the Banquet, the fourth annual CIDM Rare Bird Award was presented to Charles Dowdell, Technical Publications Manager for the Raymond Corporation. Charles developed new processes to create operator and maintenance documentation for lift trucks produced by Raymond. He has been able to improve quality and expand Raymond’s documentation to online and PDA outputs while substantially reducing costs. He was able to accomplish all this despite taking a four-month leave of absence to work in Antarctica last winter. Congratulations Charlie!

All of us at Comtech were exhausted by the end of the conference but content in the knowledge that information developers in North America and Europe are thriving and constantly making innovations in our technical tools and processes. We all went home having found new friends and colleagues.

We hope to see you at the tenth Best Practices conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in September 2008.