On my first or second day in my new technical writing job my manager told me, “The CS [customer support] guys have put together a ‘cheat sheet’ for setting up hardware redundancy. They’d just started working with Pat [my predecessor] to get it published as a user guide.”
I looked at the cheat sheet: a 40-page Word file describing what works with what (and what doesn’t), the basic setup process, and several “gotchas” to watch out for. Good, useful stuff. Yeah, our customers would like to have this. I can massage it into a user guide.
But when I investigated further, I found a surprise: about half of the cheat sheet consisted of content already in the product documentation. The CS guys were surprised when I pointed that out to them.
So now we have two things going on: the organization has good information that it wants to deliver to its customers. At the same time we’re already delivering good information, but people don’t know it’s there.
My situation exemplifies two of Scriptorium’s Six Trends of 2016 — two trends that at first sound contradictory but actually are closely related in yin-and-yang fashion.
Trend 1: Non-content groups driving content improvements. The idea for publishing the hardware-redundancy content originated with our CS team, not within Tech Pubs. The fact that the CS team chose to recommend this, rather than simply posting its cheat sheet on a user group somewhere, shows that they recognize the value of making customer-facing documentation as useful and relevant as possible.
Trend 2: Content creator-driven strategies. In other words, improvements being driven by Tech Pubs. Increasingly, we design and create our content with a strategy in mind. Ideally the strategy integrates all of the customer-facing content — documentation, web pages, user groups, marketing collateral — into a unified whole that, again, is useful and relevant to customers.
It’s because Tech Pubs is pursuing these strategic initiatives (Trend 2) that other parts of the organization, like CS, have begun to recognize that the documentation has value (Trend 1). In the old days Tech Pubs simply maintained the status quo and no one else paid attention. (I know I’m overgeneralizing here, but I don’t think I’m off by much.)
Today we, Tech Pubs, have gotten better at innovating. That’s good, because if we weren’t innovating the other parts of the organization, like CS, would be innovating for us. Deciding what content the customers need. Publishing it through back channels. The customers would see a disjointed babble: pieces of content overlapping, other pieces missing, inconsistent style and presentation.
So where does that leave us?
Trend 1: The other parts of the organization are interested in what we do.
Trend 2: Let’s take the lead, thinking and acting strategically while enlisting the other parts of the organization as partners.
What do you think? Do you see these two trends where you work? How can we think and act strategically in a way that best serves our customers?