April 20, 2023

Bringing the Worlds of Technical Documentation & Content Strategy Together

image shows computer on desk

During recent years, business leaders have been focusing on improving both the employee experience and the customer experience to remain competitive and retain employees. These concepts have cut through all industries and gained huge traction in leadership circles. Research into content strategy and what makes a great customer and employee experience shows that content management is at the heart of both.

The importance of managing technical documentation in business content

Technical documentation in enterprise content, – i.e. operational business critical content – often falls under the category of general business content, which is not ideal. And now that we are in an accelerated digital transformation era, including the advancement of AI, how general business content and documentation is managed together is more important than ever.

Should business-critical content (i.e., documentation) continue to be managed at the page level (in a traditional CMS) or is it time to recognize the benefits of moving it to the component level (in a modern CCMS)?

For the employee, good content management results in: autonomy, empowerment, agility, clarity, transparency, consistency, trust – in short, they can reach their goals faster and happier.

And what about the customer? For customers, the benefits of effective content management are equally important. When information is accurate, easy to find, and presented in a clear and concise manner, customers are more likely to feel confident in their interactions with the business. This can lead to increased satisfaction, customer loyalty, and even advocacy.

This piece delves into how the knowledge, and even traditional skills, attributed to tech writers can now be utlilized as a content strategy across organizations as tools become simpler for multiple department use. We will then suggest how organizations can reshape the role of their technical documentation authors to reap massive operation efficiency benefits from the ground up, as future “information managers” in the business world.

Universal challenges in documentation

People have universal challenges across any organization – they are short on time, tight on budget, and are juggling multiple projects. However, we are going to focus on specific issues that stretch across all teams – and at all management levels – that the technical writer is uniquely placed to solve.

The technical writer holds many transferable skills and knowledge regarding content. These can help other teams become more efficient in reaching their goals, and more confident in their roles and responsibilities. The approach to curating, creating and distributing content that technical writers use every day can improve organizational efficiency significantly. This is achieved by improving how information is created, reviewed and distributed both within the organization amongst teams, and externally amongst users.

The value of a solid content strategy cannot be overstated. However, is this content strategy achievable when content is managed at the page level, rather than the component level? How is it governed for quality and security? How does it scale?

It’s important to understand the difference between technical content and general content. Technical content is designed to provide readers with specific information or instructions, while general content is meant to be more broad and provide an overview of a topic.

Experts in the field who have extensive knowledge of the topic often create technical content. Some examples of technical content include:

  • Instructions for using a particular software application
  • How-to guides for fixing products
  • A manual for operating a piece of machinery
  • A tutorial for building a website

In contrast, general content is not specific to any particular field or discipline. Examples include:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Popular websites

Content creators should understand the difference between technical and general content. Technical content provides specific instructions or information, while general content provides an overview of a topic. Both can benefit from a more organized input.

Understanding the power of knowledge management

Most employees in other disciplines do not have an organized (structured) way of creating, reviewing, and distributing content in an efficient manner. In fact, they wouldn’t even classify their information output every day as “content.” There is no formal process. It is learned “on the job”, or else they bring their own personal approach (and often, tools) to the team. This is not necessarily wrong, but it results in a huge amount of misinformation, miscommunication and stress within and across departments, both locally and globally. What this means for organizations is that there is a significant hidden inefficiency upon which to improve.

Sharing information across departments & teams is a lot easier with the help of a knowledge management system. A knowledge management system helps make training more beneficial, cost effective, and improves productivity, among other things.
Imagine how much easier it would be if most of your content-creating colleagues were familiar with (and appreciated) the science of knowledge management? How many fewer meetings would be required to inform each other, correct each other, and perform damage control? How much time spent on information administration (e.g., duplicate content, checking the source of truth, editing content to be on brand) would be reduced per employee? How much does an organization rely on a single individual holding critical knowledge, in a proprietary system or unfamiliar tool, being available at a moment’s notice?

Delivering value across the organization

You have valuable resources in your technical writers that can make your business more efficient. The role of the traditional “technical writer” is beginning to merge and overlap with other roles in the organization, particularly in Support, Customer Success and Product. Their skills also enhance any department or job role involving policies (HR, insurance, legal), and procedures (operations, health and safety, security). Businesses can reap enormous benefits by exploring how technical documenation writers can adapt their expertise to help other teams be more effective.

During a technical writer’s professional training, and on the job, they learn and practice the art of communicating in a way that their other colleagues will not. Not only will they have exceptional depth of knowledge on how to explain technical details, but they will also understand how to structure information and develop a useful content strategy. Also, they will have a depth of experience in translation, accessibility, user experience design, as well as multimedia creation. Empathy and logic are a powerful combination in content creation and information management.

A simple example of how technical communication thinking is becoming more widespread in organizations is the “WIIFM” factor. “WIIFM” stands for “what’s in it for me,” i.e., why should the person with whom they are sharing content care about the content. As a technical writer, placing the person consuming the content at the center of your writing is just how you do the job. For example, this practice has only taken hold in Marketing in the past ten years, and is only just emerging in Sales.

Technical writers already know the purpose (and power) of empathizing with the user, rather than simply pushing information out into the world. And why is this so revolutionary for businesses? Because it is now well-documented that a) the main reason customers leave is due to poor customer service, and b) gaining new customers rather than keeping existing customers is far more cost-effective.

Customers who can’t find or understand the information they need to reach their goals or do their jobs will become frustrated, and switch to your competitors.

The same issue applies to employees as well. Not only does it cause stress to feel lost in information, but the successful onboarding of a new employee into the company or role is delayed significantly. In turn, your employee onboarding (and offboarding) costs are higher.

Better information from the inside out

Any internet search will reveal how organizations struggle with information creation, distribution and updating. This information is needed both for their employees and their customers. The same applies to translation challenges to version management, to consistent definitions.

Traditionally, technical writers have “only” focused on explaining how products and services work. This method is, in fact, far more powerful than it sounds. How often has a dissatisfied customer left because “the product didn’t do what you said it would do”? Or an employee doesn’t stay on because they struggle to find out what they need to do their job? Or a catastrophic incident occurs because the policy or procedure was unable to deal with a given situation documented by an amateur? In these cases, there is a culture of misinformation forming the foundation of the business.

We predict that technical writers will become a highly strategic resource for enterprise companies in the near future. Organizations that see the potential in the technical documentation team will reap the benefits by proactively reshaping their role. The “Information Technology/IT Manager” has been an established role for some time now. The next step is to make the “Information Manager” just as central.

“The need for technical writers will increase. At the same time, the demands on technical writers are becoming ever more complex. Experienced technical writers who take on additional responsibilities are referred to as information managers.”

Reference: https://intelligent-information.blog/en/the-path-from-technical-writer-to-information-manager/

The road to change

The Content Maturity Model has been around for a long time. But despite the message being repeated on podcasts, webinars and tech talks for a decade, many organizations are still getting stuck somewhere between stage three (“operational”) and stage four (“amplified”), with only a few achieving the ultimate “differentiated” level. The reason this happens is because there is no clear understanding of information management – despite the proliferation of information technology (IT) tools for information storage, organization, and risk mitigation.

Not all information can, or should, be converted into components, to be managed centrally. However, there is a vast amount of enterprise information that would benefit from the science of technical writing, and the tools that come with it. As mentioned previously, the obvious place to start is with product guides, legal policies, or scientific procedures. But structured authoring and content reuse can offer so much more than that.

Why is a Component Content Management System (CCMS) so important to technical writing?

  • New updates to the product can be updated across all publications within minutes.
  • Material is consistent with a single source of truth
  • Managing translation is included, which reduces time and costs
  • Keeps track of updates and revisions, eliminating duplication
  • Technical writers control what is reused (single-sourced) across broad topics, publications, and text fragments.
  • Structured authoring ensures consistent content over time.

Instituting a new process for information management across an organization is a significant undertaking, and requires buy-in from key stakeholders and often a champion in each department / team. Having one person present strong use cases and drive the rollout in a single team, is a great way to showcase the benefits of this new way of managing information. Just like any other major transformational project, it is best to do it in phases.

Start with a single project in a team – documentation is naturally a great place to start to show big returns in a short space of time. Most importantly: it’s time to talk to your technical writers, technical documentation managers and product owners to truly understand what your business could be missing out on. It’s time to reshape their role and responsibility as caretakers of enterprise information at a much higher level.

Why Paligo?

Successful enterprises work on efficiency at every point within an organization. The goal is to have key teams and departments “aligned” such as Sales + Marketing, or Product + Customer Success. But how can various teams and departments, spread across a building, country or the world, become aligned when they struggle with basic information management? The true impact of analyzing the use of content, and a process to make content creation, distribution and curation as efficient as possible, is completely underestimated. In part, this is because there haven’t been any suitable tools or content strategy out there to enable it. Often, it is due to organizations being accustomed to “departmental” thinking, which can be traced all the way up the chain to how the budget is managed and distributed.

If company knowledge is a ubiquitous resource, it stands to reason that it should have structure, order, and governance while also allowing both technical and non-technical contributors alike to constantly (and consistently) add, improve, and archive knowledge.

With modern component content management systems (CCMS) tools like Paligo, that are user-friendly for non-tech writers, this opens up an opportunity for great savings that weren’t there before.

The heart of the enterprise is the products and services it provides and supports. This is why those teams have been the earliest adopters of structured content and topic-based authoring, otherwise known as information, with “a single source of truth.” These are the teams on which the technical writer most often sits. Well-managed product information is one of the keys to a more successful business, more confident employees, and more satisfied customers.

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