JoAnn Hackos, Comtech Services, Inc.
Settling on Mature Processes
We’ve been following Dr. Q as she works with information-development managers building more mature organizations. Checko Software, at level 2, was making considerable progress toward restructuring. As a Level 3 organization, Sonoita Technologies has already spent three years working out effective processes and practices. It was quite a struggle at times, particularly when Don Blue, publications manager, faced a potential revolt from some of the writers who preferred working on their own. In a few cases (a very few, fortunately), the staff members decided to move on.
Since the first of the year, Don has felt his staff has “made it.” They completed their first comprehensive user study. They discovered, to everyone’s surprise, that the first-level technicians at their telecom customers were not given the documentation from Sonoita. Instead, they received on-the-job training and a field notebook of the procedures they needed to follow.
They had succeeded in developing common standards with their sister organization on the east coast. Agreeing on standards had been difficult because both groups thought their way of doing things was best. Finally, they were able to reach a compromise that seemed the best of both.
The new process standard was still proving to be a challenge. Too many staff writers still felt it was easier to dive into a new project rather than developing a content plan and estimating project hours. The project management training planned for next month should at least ensure that everyone was using the same vocabulary for the planning activities.
Despite the clear progress they had made, Don was alert to the possibility of backsliding. Until they all had experience living in a more mature business environment, they would struggle with change. Don hoped that his recent promotion to Director of Technical Publications signaled senior management’s support for their efforts.
Leading a Level 3 Organization Toward a Content-Management Solution
A small team representing both of Sonoita’s technical publications teams (east and west coast) has begun to investigate content management. Linda Rubioto had attended the Content Management Strategies conference in 2009 and was excited about everything she’d learned. She had assembled a team interested in knowing more and leading a possible implementation project. The team members are working on several issues:
- understanding the requirements of their customers for specific content, especially the planning and surveillance engineers they had interviewed and observed during the site studies
- relating the customer needs for information to a set of clearly defined information types
- standardizing the information types so that they contained a standard set of content units
Once they had defined the information types and related them to customer needs, they would have the rudiments of their Information Model.
Don has invited Dr. Q to assist with their content-management planning. Dr. Q decides to host a stakeholders meeting. They have invited representatives of other departments, including
- Customer Support
- Marketing and Communications
- Contracts and Proposals
Each of the stakeholders may prove to be interested in joining the content-management initiative and supporting the investment in hardware and software. Without their contributions, technical publications would not be able to support the full cost. If other departments participate in the analysis, they will each strengthen the business case needed to obtain approval and funding from the Sonoita board of directors.
Dr. Q encourages the stakeholders to create a vision of how they could work together to develop modules of information and contribute them to the customers. They envision what the new information-development environment would look like if they are successful in reaching their goals.
Building a Business Case
Linda’s team takes responsibility for building the business case. They need to develop evidence of the business goals that will be supported by content management. They must also analyze the benefits to the company and its customers and balance the benefits against the costs of the system and its implementation. Dr. Q points out that costs will include
- software licenses for a database and the content-management system
- hardware in the form of servers and other infrastructure to support the implementation
- system integration to make all the pieces of software work together and to build those custom pieces not available out-of-the-box
- training for the staff in new authoring tools, as well as the repository
- additional staff to support the content-management system
- development of a comprehensive information model
- scheduling of activities and monitoring progress
Don recognizes that the project is not going to happen over night. He wants to plan on 12 to 18 months for the planning and implementation. He has the regular work of the department to manage at the same time, but with the help of Dr. Q and her staff, they are able to plan a reasonable level of involvement for the team.
Don and Linda both recognize the importance of starting small with a well-defined pilot project. They’ll need to keep all the stakeholders at bay for a while once the pilot begins. Bringing in all of the other departments will make the initial project far too complex to succeed.
They know that many changes in organization and process are ahead. It isn’t enough to buy a product; an organization has to make changes in the way it handles its work. For the first project, they should start with a small set of previously well-structured information and work through the entire process. Developing baseline measurements will also be important for them so that they have specific points of comparison with the new system in place.
If you’ve found yourself putting in place a Level 3: Organized and Repeatable organization, please send your stories to me at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll assemble them into a feedback to this article.