Scriptorium Publishing

content strategy consulting

Content strategy and relocation: the trauma is the same

December 1, 2014 by

We moved into a new office at the end of October. The new space is bigger and nicer than the old space, but nonetheless, the moving process was painful. As a child, I moved several times and changed schools every two or three years. I then landed in North Carolina for college and stayed put. It occurs to me that a new content strategy introduces much of the same pain as relocation.

Motive matters

Pickford's moving van

Content strategy and relocation: Not very much fun // flickr: markhillary

When you relocate or change your approach to content, the reason matters. Did you choose to move for an amazing job opportunity or spiffy new features? Were you forced to abandon your old content creation system by factors beyond your control? Did you seize the opportunity to change things? Were you involved in the decision, or was it imposed by others? Did you carefully select your new residence, or did you have to move to an undesirable location because of factors beyond your control? Did you plan your move carefully, or did you have to move on short notice? Do you consider yourself a starry-eyed immigrant to a new system or a refugee who would like someday to return to your true home?

Your opinion will be affected by your motive.

Learning a new culture

Moving, especially across national boundaries, causes culture shock. You expect big changes, such as different languages, customs, and food. But culture shock is usually caused by small things–the complete unavailability of a specific favorite food, the slight differences in how traffic lights work, the presence of near-ubiquitous connectivity (points to US), or the presence of useful public transit (all the points to Europe).

On the content side, we find similar culture shock. Typically, it falls in these categories:

  • Easy things that are hard or impossible in the new world.
  • New features that go unused because they were hard or impossible in the old world (so avoiding them is ingrained behavior).
  • Difficulty understanding the basic premise of how things work. For example, spending lots of time tracking content status in a spreadsheet instead of letting the shiny new content management system do the reporting for you.
  • Content development problems; for example, a shift from writing exclusively for print to writing for print and online media. This is a tough transition.
Learning a new culture is hard work, and it takes time. Training and education help, but exploring something in a controlled setting is quite different from living it. People need time to live into their new content systems.

Learning what’s really important

To make a successful transition, you need to understand what’s really important. Delivering great content is more important than getting to use Your Favorite Familiar Tool. Great writing skills will transcend the environment.

Before the office move, we had certain expectations for how the space would be used. In particular, we have both a conference room and an open meeting area. We expected to conduct most meetings in the conference room. But instead, the open meeting area is getting all the usage. As a result, we are rethinking our furniture in that space. Is it bad that we have a huge conference room that’s barely getting used?

When you change content processes, people will surprise you with creative solutions that are not part of the plan. It’s quite likely that some of their ideas will be better than what you had in mind, so figure out what matters (productive meetings) and what doesn’t matter (the location).

 

When we moved, we allowed ourselves at least six months to feel comfortable in the new location. For content strategy changes, expect a similar transition period.

Content strategy: first steps (premium)

November 24, 2014 by

Content: You’re doing it wrong. That’s easy for me to say—we rarely hear from people who are happy with their content. But are you ready for a major transformation effort? Our approach is to assess the overall content lifecycle, meet with all the stakeholders, identify needs, develop a strategy, and then execute the strategy. If you want a more incremental approach, consider these inexpensive first steps.

Delivery formats

Newborn fawn

Baby steps // flickr: slopjop

Are you delivering content in the format that your readers want and need? Are there delivery mechanisms that would better meet their needs? Can you implement new formats in your existing toolchain?

Many of our clients are delivering content in PDF only. A move toward HTML and especially mobile-friendly HTML can be a good first step in improving the situation for readers.

Streamlining print publishing processes

Most print-heavy environments can benefit from improvement in the print production processes. Look for opportunities in the following main areas:

  • Templates.
    Are you using templates efficiently? Your print production tool should, at a bare minimum, provide page templates and paragraph templates. Many tools go further with inline styles, table styles, object styles, and more. Building out a template that supplies correct formatting and teaching everyone to use the template can save hours and hours of production time.
  • Appearance versus reusability.
    Be careful about print-specific tweaks that damage the usability of your content in other formats. The canonical example of this is hyphenation. When reading a book on my e-reader, I often encounter words that have hyphens in the middle of a line, like this:

    Why is there a hy-phen here??

    The hyphen was almost certainly inserted into the original document to improve the line breaks in the printed document. A better solution is to use a discretionary hyphen (better print publishing programs support them). Discretionary hyphens are displayed only when a word needs to be hyphenated (occurs near the end of a line). Random hyphens scattered through the ebook are artifacts of a print-centric process.

    The content creation process needs to address appearance requirements and reusability across different formats.

Appropriate content

Are you providing the content that your readers need? You can explore this question by reviewing web analytics (if you have web content) and by examining the technical support situation. Does the tech support organization have a list of frequent problem topics? Is tech support creating additional content to address deficiencies in the technical content?

Accommodating translation requirements

If your content is translated, you can greatly improve the translation/localization process with some simple fixes to the source content. (Bill Swallow has a great article on five localization problems.) Start thinking about the following:

  • Consistent wording
  • Template-based formatting
  • Use of culturally neutral graphics
  • Technical quality of files (how are files assembled? Are language layers separate from images?)

All of these steps will improve your content without a requirement for a major strategic initiative.

Here are some things you probably cannot do without a big project (and maybe help from Scriptorium):

  • Implement intelligent content
  • Build out sophisticated reuse with metadata and a formal taxonomy
  • Reassess your tools/technologies and overall workflow
  • Get buy-in across the organization for a major content initiative

Adapting content for the U.S. market (presentation summary)

November 17, 2014 by

In this presentation delivered at tcworld 2014 in Stuttgart, Alan Pringle and Sarah O’Keefe discuss several factors that are required to adapt content for the US market. This presentation is especially relevant for European companies that want to enter the US market.

Language

The primary language of the United States is English. For business-to-business sales, use of British English might be good enough, but consumer products typically need U.S. English. The more personal the product, the more important it is to get the nuances of culture and language exactly right. Cell phones, for example, are very personal whereas accounting software used in an office is less personal.

In addition to English, it’s important to take into account the other languages spoken in the U.S. Approximately 60 million people in the U.S. speak Spanish at home, and half of them don’t speak much English. (Source: slate.com article with lots of fascinating language maps)

Culture references

Be very careful with culture references. The people and concepts that are immediately familiar in one culture are often unknown in a different culture. Even within a single country, there can be vast cultural differences–New York City residents have very little in common with Flagstaff, Arizona residents.

Regulatory requirements and legal issues

The U.S. regulates content for a few industries, such as aerospace, nuclear power, and medical devices. The regulatory framework in the European Union is much stronger. In the U.S., product defects and product liability are mainly handled through the legal system. Providing content with extensive warnings and cautions is often a defensive legal strategy rather than an attempt to deliver useful information.

The content standards that are commonly used in Germany are unknown in the U.S.

Audience

In an industrial setting in Germany, content providers can assume a certain level of training and/or certification. Germany has a strong apprenticeship program and vocational training. In the U.S., it is very common to have only minimal training in an industrial setting. It may be necessary to provide basic information in the U.S. content that is omitted for the better-trained German audience.

The audience for a U.S. product is likely to be more diverse than a European audience. Expect much wider variance in experience levels, language skills, literacy, education, and training.

Customer experience

A renewed focus on customer experience in the U.S. has led to the following assumptions:

  • Technical content is not just post-sales content. Around 80% of U.S. customers research products before buying them, and their research often includes technical information. Therefore, technical content can drive (or hinder) sales.
  • Repeat business is contingent on customer satisfaction. If the technical content delivered with the product is not of high quality, customers may think twice before buying again.
  • The line between marketing content and technical content is blurring.

    Customer support

    Technical content is often used in customer support. Consider the needs of the support organization in building out the technical content.

Risky business: The challenge of content silos

November 10, 2014 by

At Information Development World, I delivered a keynote on the challenges of content silos. The silo problem emerged as a major theme of the conference.

Presenters such as Janice Zdankus of Hewlett-Packard provided data that explains how silos affect customer experience and how those negative experiences in turn result in lost revenue. My job was to tell the story of bad customer experience.

Buying a roof rack

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 1.59.59 PM

Yakima has a wonderful product configurator. You tell Yakima the make, model, and year of your car, along with the type of item you want to convey (bikes, kayaks, skis?), and it tells you exactly what components you need for your car.

And of course there is a big shiny Buy button at the end of the process.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 2.04.02 PM
After you buy the rack, the pieces show up at your door, and it appears that Yakima’s interest in a delightful customer experience ends. After all, they have my money. The product installation is ugly and requires a tedious lookup in other documents.

The contrast with the sales content is quite marked.

Yakima does provide a web-based lookup tool for the needed measurements, but I did not see a reference to this utility in any of the documents I received with the roof rack parts.

Obvious bad service

Another customer experience example comes from Comcast (of course). In a lengthy and entertaining rant, Staci Huckeba has this to say:

Nobody in the “the customer has a problem department” can do everything like they can in the “the customer wants to buy something department.”

Broken web sites

Recently, the Internet at our office stopped working. We tried the usual, obvious stuff (reboot the router), but that didn’t work. So the next step was to see whether the provider (Windstream) was having a wider outage. It turns out that finding the network status/outage reports on Windstream’s site was nearly impossible. A simple Google search eventually revealed that Windstream does in fact have an outage page, but it was thoroughly hidden from the normal site navigation.

The problem here is that the web site is intended as a sales tool and not as a support tool. Even though Windstream has a “support” area on its web site, it does not provide easy access to the outage information.

In the recording, available in a link at the end of this article, I provide some more details and examples of cases where content silos result in inconsistent and generally infuriating customer experience.

What to do

I have three major recommendations to address the content silo problem:

  • Integrated content development and delivery
  • Break down the organizational barriers
  • Break down presentational barriers

These are simple concepts, but executing them well is of course challenging. If you need help, contact us.

The recording of the session is available on the Content Wrangler’s BrightTALKchannel. Janice Zdankus opens the session, followed by Lee LeFever of Common Craft, and then my part starts at around 72 minutes.

Webcast: Understanding the need for XML and structured content

October 6, 2014 by

In this webcast, Sarah O’Keefe provides a basic introduction to XML and explains how it could affect your content creation efforts. This presentation emphasizes the overall concept and has minimal technical content.

The presentation was sponsored by oXygen XML Editor and hosted by Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler. The live version was delivered on October 6, 2014.

Content strategy burdens: cost-shifting

September 22, 2014 by

In assessing an organization’s requirements, it’s important to identify content strategy burdens. That is, what practices or processes impose burdens on the organization? A content strategy burden might be an external cost, such as additional translation expense, or it might be an internal cost, such as a practice in one department that imposes additional work on a different department. A key to successful content strategy is to understand how these burdens are distributed in the organization.

Pain points are areas where an organization is inefficient or has unpleasant workarounds. When department A choose a workflow without consulting department B, it may create an internal pain point. For example, a software engineering group might use practices that cause a lot of trouble for their QA group. HR creates a policy, but IT has to enforce it—and the infrastructure isn’t available to do so.

Over and over, we see this pattern in our client companies. We discover that one department has a tremendously inefficient approach to one of their responsibilities. As we dig into the issue, we discover that the efficient approach is blocked to them because of another department’s lack of cooperation.

“Wait, you retyped these specifications? Aren’t they in a database somewhere?”

“Yes, but the product manager refuses to give us access to the database because he doesn’t want to pay for another database license.”

“How much is the license?”

“$500.”

“How many hours did it take to retype this information?”

“40, and we have to redo it every quarter.”

So…the process takes longer, costs more, and is less accurate. But the other manager saves $500.

This is a trivial example of a potentially huge problem. In content strategy assessments, we look for high-value information that flows through an organization. Common examples of this include the following:

  • Product specifications (developed by product management; used by engineering to build products and in customer-facing content)
  • Repair procedures (used by support organizations, quality organizations, and in customer-facing content)
  • Product descriptions (used throughout the organization)
  • Technical illustrations (used in a variety of customer-facing content and in the product design/manufacturing process)
  • Product interface labels (used in the product interface and customer-facing content)

The goal for each of these items is as follows:

  1. Store information in a known location (“single source of truth”).
  2. When information is reused, reuse is automated and accurate (no copying and pasting, rekeying, manual editing of copies, and so on).
  3. Make information updates in the original content, not in the downstream copies.

Managers must be held accountable not just for the performance of their individual departments, but for their cooperation and collaboration across the organization. This requires executive management to understand the dependencies and conflicting priorities, not just to tell a line employee to “do some content strategy.” If one department refuses to make information available in a format that other departments can use efficiently, that’s a problem.

The organization’s content strategy must be defined and agreed to at the executive level. Executives are responsible for making sure that their departments have the resources they need to implement the strategy. Otherwise, the content strategy burden will fall disproportionately on the department with the least political clout.

And here, for your listening pleasure, is something VERY related…

XML workflow costs (premium)

September 8, 2014 by

Everyone wants to know how much an XML workflow is going to cost. For some reason, our prospective clients are rarely satisfied with the standard consultant answer of “It depends.”

This post outlines typical XML projects at four different budget levels: less than $50,000, $150K, $500K, and more than $500K.

The companies described are fictional composites. You should not make any major budgetary (or life) decisions based on these rough estimates. Your mileage may vary. Insert any other disclaimers I have forgotten.

First, some context. The numbers I’m quoting here include the following:

  • Software licenses, such as a content management system, authoring tools, linguistic analysis, translation management software, and others
  • Software installation and configuration
  • Content migration from an outside vendor
  • Content strategy,  implementation, and training services from external consultants (like Scriptorium)

They do not take into account the following “soft” costs:

  • Employee time spent on managing the project, reviewing deliverables, researching options, and negotiating with vendors
  • Lost productivity during the transition
  • Costs from any staff turnover that might occur

They also do not include IT costs:

  • Hardware costs (that said, server costs are usually an insignificant fraction of the overall implementation budget)
  • Network infrastructure costs (network bandwidth or latency issues need to be addressed if authors are storing content in shared repositories rather than their local file systems)
  • IT resources to install, configure, and maintain a new system

$50,000 or less

lots of currency

Count your pennies; you’re going to need them // flickr: epsos

This mid-sized organization has ten or fewer content creators who want to reduce the amount of time spent on formatting and increase their reuse percentage. Translation is required for FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish) and CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean).

The company uses a source control system to manage file versioning. XML is implemented using DITA with no specialization. The reuse strategy is straightforward and mostly at the topic level. Conditional processing is needed for a few audience variants. The organization pushes output to PDF and HTML, and content is published and translated a few times a year.

The localization vendor provides some support for translation management efforts.

The company moved away from a help authoring tool or a desktop publishing too, perhaps with single sourcing, because of increasing scalability problems. Over the next several years, the company expects to increase the number of languages that must be supported to more than 20.

Small XML workflow costs

  • Authoring software: $5,000
  • Information architecture/reuse strategy: $5,000
  • PDF and HTML stylesheets: $19,000
  • Content migration: $15,000
  • Training: $6,000

$150,000(ish)

This organization has 20 content creators and two production editors spread across four offices in three countries (and two continents). Authors create content in English and French. Translation is required into over two dozen languages, including Russian, Arabic, and Thai.

The translation effort is costing several million dollars per year, and at least 30% of that effort is in reformatting work. Although there is a lot of reuse potential, small inconsistencies mean that reuse in translation is only about 10%. The goal is to increase the translation memory usage to around 30%. Industry benchmarks indicate that this number is conservative; similar companies are reporting over 50%.

The company implements (relatively) inexpensive content management and translation systems and a reuse strategy intended to maximize reuse down to the sentence level. They choose DITA as the content model and specialize attributes (two new ones) and elements (five new ones) to support company-specific content requirements. Output is PDF and mobile-compatible HTML. Both outputs are required for all languages, so the stylesheets must include support for all languages.

Medium XML workflow costs

  • Content management and translation management systems (including authoring software): $75,000
  • Information architecture/reuse strategy: $15,000
  • PDF and HTML stylesheets: $25,000
  • Content migration: $25,000
  • Training: $10,000

$500,000(ish)

This organization has 50 content creators in half a dozen locations worldwide. Authors create content in English only. Translation is required for more than 30 languages.

The company implements relatively expensive content management and translation management systems, along with linguistic support software, which helps make content consistent as it is written. The cost is easily justified because of the large numbers of authors. For example, a 10% increase in author efficiency is equivalent to 5 extra full-time employees, or roughly $500,000 per year.

The planning phase for this XML workflow takes six months. The company builds out a formal business case and a content strategy document. These serve as the roadmap for the XML workflow. Vendor selection includes a formal Request for Proposal process.

The company reviews existing content and determines that rewrites are needed. This reduces migration costs.

Training costs are reduced by using a single delivery of a train-the-trainer class, along with live, web-based instruction instead of in-person classroom training.

The company is phasing out PDF delivery, but needs a basic PDF stylesheet, along with HTML output. The company is also building an app for iOS devices that customers can use to display content. Search functionality is a big concern because there is so much information available.

  • Content strategy, along with information architecture and reuse strategy: $50,000
  • Content management and translation management systems (including authoring software and linguistic support): $350,000
  • PDF and HTML stylesheets: $50,000
  • Mobile app: $30,000
  • Content migration: $40,000
  • Training: $15,000

More than $500,000

Take the $500,000ish version and expand it with more authors, more languages, and more output requirements. The line item that most commonly results in very expensive implementation is integration—such as a requirement to deliver XML content combined with data from product lifecycle management (PLM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

It’s quite easy to spend $500,000 just on software.

Difficult output challenges can also increase the cost.

 

What level of spending makes sense for you? Consult our XML business case calculator to find out.

Fall 2014 Scriptorium conference round-up

August 25, 2014 by

We have a full schedule of stellar conferences coming up this fall. We hope to see you at one or more of these events.

Let’s start with the big news. You should be able to recognize us at these events, as we have finally updated our web site photos and profiles. Yes, after only six years, we took some new portraits.

Lavacon: Bring on the zombies

That’s probably not the official conference theme (and we hope it’s unrelated to the photo news), but Bill Swallow is presenting Content Strategy vs. The Undead, and Alan Pringle will be at the Scriptorium booth talking about content strategy—and handing out chocolate (of course). Come very early and there might be a few donuts.

October 12-15, Portland, Oregon

Lavacon conference web site

Information Development World

At IDWorld, Sarah O’Keefe is presenting Risky Business: The Challenge of Content Silos. Gretyl Kinsey will be at the booth with chocolate. No word on whether there will be any reenactments of famous movie scenes.

October 22-24, San Jose, California

IDWorld conference web site

tekom/tcworld

Sarah and Alan will team up for a workshop on Adapting Content for the US Market.

November 11-13, Stuttgart, Germany

tekom/tcworld conference web site

Gilbane Conference

Sarah will be participating on a content strategy panel.

December 2-4, Boston, Massachusetts

Gilbane Conference web site

 

As always, we are delighted to meet with you at any time. Contact us to set up a meeting, or just find us during an event and introduce yourself.

Content strategy failure in ten easy steps (premium)

August 11, 2014 by

Here’s how to ensure content strategy failure in ten easy steps. Follow these steps to guarantee that your project disintegrates in spectacular fashion. The top three are:

  1. Pick your tools first.
  2. Don’t talk to stakeholders.
  3. Make bad assumptions.

1. Pick your tools first.

Do you know what your strategy is? Do you understand your business? Have you thought about the implications of AwesomeSoftware™ over the next five years? No? Great, let’s use AwesomeSoftware. After all, their salespeople bought us a nice dinner, and they’re fun to drink with. What could possibly go wrong?

When content strategy = pick a tool, the results will be craptacular.

Content strategy failure occurs when you aren't prepared. // flickr: zachd1_618

Content strategy failure occurs when you aren’t prepared. // flickr: zachd1_618

2. Don’t talk to your stakeholders; they make projects more complex.

Stakeholders can offer project support and critical information. They may also have biases. You need to garner their support, understand their biases, and make sure that you extract every last drop of intel from them.

If you don’t talk to stakeholders, your project will be much simpler—and unlikely to work in the real world.

The more stakeholders you talk to, the more requirements you have to balance. If the requirements are in direct conflict, get your stakeholders together to discuss their priorities.

3. Make bad assumptions, especially based on stereotypes.

Some engineers are good writers.

Some marketing people like technology.

Some technical writers like to socialize.

Some CEOs are more interested in high quality products than cost savings.

The list could go on forever. We all carry biases and stereotypes around. Sometimes, we call them “work experience.” I’ve met a few 60-somethings who are just trying to glide into retirement, but they are the exception not the rule. I’ve also met unmotivated 20-somethings. You need to assess skills, motivation, and learning aptitude of the team members, but don’t assume based on demographics.

In addition to stereotyping people, there is a temptation to stereotype organizations by industry. For example:

  • Government agency = slow and out of date
  • Software company = quality doesn’t matter; only speed matters
  • Heavy machinery = not interested in new technology

Some organizations resemble these stereotypes, but we have also worked with organizations that blow these assumptions out of the water. Nimble government agencies doing awesome things. Software companies that are focused on quality rather than cost and velocity. Heavy machinery companies that are producing innovative content using cutting-edge technology.

People and projects will surprise you. Be ready for it.

4. Ignore people who challenge your assumptions.

You know that naysayer? The one who insists that [whatever] is a terrible idea and will never work? Ignore her at your peril. Your naysayer may be an enormous annoyance, but she is probably expressing concerns that are held by more politically savvy members of the organization. There’s also a significant chance that her objections are valid.

Pay attention when you get resistance to your plans. Do your research and make sure that you address valid objections. Don’t allow your enthusiasm to blind you to the possibility that you have not chosen the right approach. Content strategy failure is likely when the general approach is “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” (Although, admittedly, that worked for Admiral Farragut.)

At some point, we go from “challenging assumptions” to “sheer obstinance.” It’s important to recognize the difference.

5. Take vendor demos as gospel truth.

Panda cub stuck halfway up tree

Can your tool do what you need? // flickr: bootbearwdc

The purpose of a vendor demo is to tell a compelling story that sells the product. You can learn a lot from vendor demos by paying attention to points of emphasis and the overall structure of the demo:

  • Are there lots of “corporate overview” slides before you get to an actual hands-on demo? This is a well-established company that wants you to perceive them as a safe choice. They probably have a small upstart competitor, perhaps with better technology.
  • Is the demo incredibly detailed and technical? This is probably a smaller company that has great technology. Make sure you ask about technical support and corporate structure.
  • Did the vendor avoid a particular topic area? Their solution is probably not as good in this area. Either put them on the spot by asking about that feature, or follow up later.
  • Does the presenter tell you that a particular approach is a bad idea? This means that a) the vendor’s solution doesn’t work well with that approach, b) that approach is a universally bad idea, or c) both. Figuring out when the answer is (a) is a critical skill for the buyer.
  • How interesting and informative is the person leading the demo? He is probably the person in the vendor organization who is the best at communicating with customers (because, after all, he is involved in sales). You can assume that the technical support person will be no better than what you are seeing in the demo. (In other words, if the demo is terrible, expect lousy technical support in the future.)

Ask the vendor to demonstrate using samples that you provide. This helps you to see whether the solution would work for your information or is mainly functional when working with a highly restricted set of sample information.

A demo is a best-case scenario.

6. Ignore corporate culture.

Corporate culture constrains possibilities. A cautious organization with many layers of approvals will not succeed with a strategy that requires quick action. A startup culture that prizes creative thinking and cheap solutions will reject a months-long implementation effort.

If you ignore the corporate culture, you have the freedom to choose a solution that, on paper, looks like a good option, but that will fail because it’s incompatible with the organization. Think of it like an organ transplant. You have to match the solution (the donor organ) to the recipient, or Bad Things will happen.

Take the time to understand the corporate culture, especially if you are new to the organization. Who really makes decisions? Very often, it’s not the person at the top of the organizational chart—it’s the trusted lieutenant. How do different departments in the organization interact? How do employees in different locations work together? Is there a hierarchy of locations (for instance, people at corporate HQ always win), or is there a department that has the ability to get things done? Was there a merger, and how are the people from the two sides of the merger treated? Is one side more influential than the other? Is there ongoing resentment about how the merger was handled? (Hint: Yes.)

7. Pick a solution and then look for a problem.

Perhaps you used a certain tool in a previous job? Perhaps that software was awesome? By all means, let’s use that option. Or maybe you’ve decided that XML is really cool. Why not push your organization to use XML?

No. No. Ten thousand times no.

Define the business problem first, then pick the solution. “I hate working with (or without) AwesomeSoftware” is not a business problem.

8. Allow IT to choose the solution while ignoring content creators.

traditional rock climbing rope and caribiner

Choose your tools carefully; your project success depends on them // flickr: iwona_kelly

Especially in larger companies, the IT organization is waterboarded when they fail to strongly encouraged to limit the number of software systems. As a result, your request for a specialized system will be met with suspicion. Why can’t you just use the default option?

In extreme cases, you will be told that you must use the default option. This is very often an enterprise document management system, which may or may not fit your needs. (Probably not.)

IT’s focus on limiting software is supposed to control overall IT costs. If the IT-recommended software doesn’t meet your content strategy requirements, then you must show a cost-benefit analysis. What are the benefits of the proposed (non-IT-approved) solution? Do these benefits outweigh the cost of configuring, supporting, and maintaining the solution?

9. Allow content creators to choose the solution while ignoring IT.

An IT-imposed solution is one extreme. At the other extreme, we find content creators making decisions based on their personal biases.

A former manager was an enormous typesetting geek, so now the content creators have a workflow that includes fine manual kerning. Does kerning add value? Will customer notice if kerning stops? Is support for sophisticated manual kerning a critical requirement?

What if “sophisticated kerning” rules out solutions that are otherwise a good fit?

Beware of content creators who advocate for a solution solely because it is the least disruptive option—for them. Again you must ask, does the solution meet the overall requirements?

10. Refuse to change.

“We’ve always done it that way.”

Content strategy failure is assured when new initiatives are met with the requirement that any new approach to content must preserve all of the weirdest features of the current approach.

Learn to identify change resistance masquerading as project constraints.

 

The best way to avoid content strategy failure is to bring Scriptorium as a consulting partner. Contact us today.

DITA content strategy

July 28, 2014 by

How can you implement DITA content strategy? Is DITA itself a content strategy?

Map with dotted line indicating travel from source to destination.

Identifying your business goals is the key to content strategy

The answer is a resounding no. DITA is an architecture. DITA and content strategy are related, but “we use DITA” is not a content strategy. The content strategy process goes something like this:

  1. Identify your business goals. (Examples: “efficiently create information required by our regulators to sell our product” or “increase market share in Europe”)
  2. Based on your business goals, establish a content strategy. (Example: “deliver content in local language for European markets at the same time English is ready”)
  3. Based on the content strategy, establish requirements for your content lifecycle.
  4. Identify the constraints.
  5. Based on the requirements and constraints, identify a solution for developing, deploying, and delivering your content. (DITA is a possible solution.)

Although I strongly encourage you to start with strategy, I do know that DITA is a strong contender if you have the following requirements:

  • Topic-based authoring
  • Localization
  • Reuse
  • Lots of output formats

DITA has advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few:

DITA advantages

DITA is a good fit for typical technical communication requirements. It is an open standard and has significant vendor support.

DITA disadvantages

For many organizations, DITA is a huge change, so we have change management concerns. There are also writing challenges (modular content is harder than you might think) and technical challenges. The technology stack required to get output from DITA is not for the faint of heart.

Is DITA right for you?

Scuba divers

Once you have requirements and constraints, you can assess whether DITA makes sense for you. Image: NOAA

It might be. It might not be. Before asking about DITA content strategy, make sure that you have built your content strategy requirements. Need help? Contact us.

 

I did a DITA Content Strategy webcast as part of the 2013 easyDITA RockStar Summer Camp series.