Every year my talented friends at Scriptorium roll out a list of trends in content strategy and technical communication. This year’s list is thought-provoking as always: it contains some trends that are spot-on and some that I wasn’t expecting.
And one that’s flat-out brilliant: We’re in DITA – now what?
During the webinar in which Scriptorium unveiled its trends for 2016, Gretyl Kinsey described a “second wave” of DITA adoption: a technical writing team has decided to switch to DITA — either for the right reasons (as part of a carefully planned strategy) or for the wrong reasons (DITA sounded cool and trendy, or they had some extra money in the budget).
Having gone through the process of converting its content. the team is now finding that DITA isn’t a panacea. The 400-horsepower DITA muscle car is parked in the driveway. Now what do we do with it?
This is when some teams throw up their hands, or when buyer’s remorse sets in. The team, especially if they didn’t have sound reasons for switching to DITA in the first place, might want to return to its old tool set. Or, realizing that they’ve sunk a lot of treasure and talent into the DITA implementation, they’re inclined to limp along — driving the car but never getting out of second gear.
Even when the team made the switch for the right reasons, they might feel overwhelmed. All of the reasons for switching, like cost savings through reuse and greater efficiency in translation, didn’t just magically fall into place. A lot of work is still needed. In this situation, again, some teams content themselves with driving the car to the grocery store and back, never taking it out on the freeway.
What’s the right thing to do?
During the webinar, Scriptorium’s Alan Pringle and Bill Swallow emphasized that the team should remember the strategic reasons for switching. Keep the goals and requirements of the business in mind, and tailor your DITA implementation as needed.
In practice that might mean hiring someone to create specializations for meeting certain business requirements, or developing a workflow for translation.
Scriptorium’s Sarah O’Keefe added some more ideas in a subsequent blog post — for example, the team can deliver new output files, refine the reuse strategy, and integrate other content into the DITA infrastructure to encourage collaboration.
Those are all good ideas. But for each of them, “the team” actually means the manager or the information architect.
A lot of the time, it’s the rank-and-file writers who feel overwhelmed or adrift. They don’t know enough, or they don’t have enough confidence, to use the full horsepower of DITA.
So, in addition to what Gretyl, Alan, Bill, and Sarah recommended, here’s what I’d tell management to do for the team.
Provide follow-up training. The writers probably received training during the conversion process. But when it actually came time to work with their content they couldn’t remember everything they’d learned. Even when they did remember, the real content somehow wasn’t as easy to work with as the exercises they did in class.
Now would be a great time for follow-up training, and the training should be as hands-on, working with real content, as possible.
If nothing else, the training will help calm the writers down. If they feel adrift, it’ll give them a lifeline. It’ll reassure them that management wants them to master the tools and succeed.
Second, make sure the team members know, and are reminded of, the business reasons behind the switch. They’re not using DITA because it’s the cheaper alternative or because management wants to check off “best in class” on the Buzzword Bingo board. They’re using it to meet specific business objectives. When the writers understand and appreciate those objectives, they’re more willing to buy in. They’re also able to ask good questions, like “How can I do this so that my content fulfills the objectives?”
Have you been part of a writing team that was hit by the “second wave,” that had DITA but didn’t know what to do with it? What did you do? What advice would you give to a manager — or a rank-and-file writer — who was part of such a team?
Those are questions that need answers, as DITA adoption continues to increase. So please leave a comment and tell me what you think.