CMS/DITA Conference Session 3: A Democratic Approach to DITA/CMS Issues

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by David Kelly

This session was presented by Sarah-Beth Doner and Laura Hood of RIM (the Blackberry people). I earnest beg indulgence not to present everything they talked about since there were two of them and they covered quite a bit of ground. Enthusiastically and authoritatively, I might add.

The central theme here was the culture shift required to get buy-in for a major change from being a Framemaker shop to becoming a CMS/DITA shop. Initially they made the change with a small committee selected from the first adopters, and after a small rollout project they began a larger rollout. Here they encountered pushback. Their solutions involved setting up groups and meetings to get broader involvement in the rollout and implementation throughout the entire user community. Apparently they had strong management support to enable the users to spend time on addressing the issues. As mentioned in a previous entry, they also found it necessary to begin redefining roles. Some roles they mentioned were mentor, support, tool development, and content enhancement.

Asked whether the democratic approach had resulted in any decisions that in retrospect they might regret, they agreed that there were instances where they made the wrong decisions, where tools were developed that they discarded, etc. But they found that it was important to keep everyone involved and informed to be able to make the system work – otherwise, apparently, the pushback was difficult to deal with.

Going forward, they are now at the point where enhancements and automation are the big pushes – the basics appear to be solved. (I believe they said they had been doing this for two and a half years.)

The benefits were mostly in reduced translation costs, the ability to scale from 8 language to 40 languages, the ability to customize documents per customer, and the quickness of turnaround time.

Another interesting question they answered: did the democratic process ever fail – how did they come to a decision when there were deadlocks, floundering, and indecision? They said that in general they had deadlines to meet, management expect certain answers by certain times, and if nothing else they had the managers to fall back on when they couldn’t arrive at agreement on their own.

(As a former documentation manager, I am pleased to hear that benign despots occasionally have their moments.)

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