Client Login

Please contact us to set up your account with Precision Content

Addressing DITA Dissatisfaction Part 3: Management

banner_managementBy Rob Hanna – President of Precision Content

This article is part of a series based on the results of a survey of more than 250 technical communication professionals conducted by The Content Wrangler in 2017 entitled The DITA Satisfaction Survey[i]. In the survey, almost two-thirds of respondents voiced some concerns with their DITA deployment.

In my previous article in the series, I examined some of the principle issues related to technology. This last article in the series looks at the role management can play in improving user satisfaction with DITA.

Issues related to management

The lowest ranked reported issues fall under the category of management. These include

  • We are impeded by a lack of governance. Ranked 6th by 60% of respondents
  • We cannot find the right people to fill key roles. Ranked 7th by 57% of respondents, and
  • We are unable to measure success. Ranked 9th by 55% of respondents.

While these issues appear to be of least concern to many respondents, they are most likely to form the root cause of all other issues identified in the survey. This points to a general lack of awareness as to the role management should be playing in collaborative, structured authoring solutions.

Organizations that lag in management of their structured authoring solutions often put technology ahead of process; or worse, they embark down the road of content management without any intention of actually managing content or the people who create it. “We cannot tell our writers how to write,” is a common excuse for failing to manage content and govern content creation efforts.

Organizations that see DITA as a magical fast-path to the bleeding edge of technology—or a panacea for multichannel publishing—are most likely to fail. Organizations that understand the importance of planning, experimentation and governance are more likely to experience success.

Planning strategies

Planning starts with a solid understanding of the issues your organization faces that point to structured authoring as a possible solution. This involves research to determine pain points and gather baseline metrics that will help you to measure success. This research forms the basis of your business case.

Good planning means that you understand how this initiative will impact your current staff and possibly increase headcount to ensure you have the right people in the right roles. If you have absolutely no ability to affect headcount—or reassign staff—than you will find yourself seriously hampered in the early stages of your DITA deployment.

Ten years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see attrition rates as high as 30% when technical publication groups transitioned to topic-based, structured authoring from more traditional desktop publishing[ii]. Today these numbers have come down as more technical writers adapt to their changing environment and demand for qualified DITA authors increases[iii].

Understand that planning is not something you do once and move on. Planning needs to be iterative allowing you to roll out a minimum viable solution as early as possible and then add on increased complexity and sophistication over time as needed. Your needs will change; sometimes quickly.

Experimentation strategies

The importance of planned experimentation and how it plays into the growth of your structured authoring solution cannot be understated. Your experimentation begins with your first proof-of-concept (PoC) to demonstrate the advantages of structured authoring and validate your business case. Here is it important to keep your costs low and workplace disruption to a minimum. The success of your PoC should validate the costs for proceeding to the pilot.

Second phase of experimentation occurs with the design and execution of the pilot project. The pilot will rely on high-level use cases and target objectives determined during the PoC. This is still only an experimental stage. You may not want to be locked into any long-term commitments to one software vendor. Where possible, consider using subscription pricing and a hosted solution at least until the pilot has proven to be successful.

Once in production, consider conducting regular experiments on a staging server that remains isolated from your production systems. These experiments should examine new product features, validate new releases, and verify patches and fixes. Use experiments to test new authoring techniques and publishing solutions before going live with them to production.

Governance strategies

Good governance is the key to scalability and sustainability of your program. When moving to a sophisticated, collaborative authoring solution, you need everyone playing by a common set of rules and guidelines. You need a strategy that addresses the needs of the business while catering to the needs of the team members responsible for carrying out the work. Governance needs to fit into the overall corporate strategy for managing its information assets. If executed well, you should see benefits[iv] such as a

  • stable technology stack for authoring and publishing
  • stable funding for skills development
  • better opportunities for leveraging content from other departments
  • better opportunities for others to reuse your content, and
  • better opportunities for improvement and innovation.

In 2015, Precision Content commissioned a study with entitled Innovating Content Creation and Reuse[v]. This study polled more than 300 organizations from around the world about their content creation practices and technology. When respondents were asked about content standards in place to manage content creation, 16% indicated there are strict standards in place, while 47% acknowledged there is something there, but not strictly followed. For 37% the indication was that there is little to no use of standards in any form.

Information Governance is the rocket fuel that empowers effective collaboration within and across teams and departments. Its purpose is to give everyone a voice in the future of the program and manage change across the enterprise. Good governance can be an important differentiator for your company.

Precision Content® Information Governance Workshop

Let Precision Content help you build your governance strategy to engage both upper management and your team in a comprehensive, coordinated plan for moving forward with your structured authoring program. We’ll help you to assess your maturity on the governance spectrum and lay out a path to a sustainable program. Working with our partners at AIIM, we will bring in industry-leading training and certification for your company to ensure success.

Contact us today for more information

What’s next

In the next series of articles, I examine issues reported by survey respondents that are facing challenges with adopting DITA in their workplace. Join our mailing list to stay informed of new articles and pick up new research and tips when they are released.

Other Posts in this series

  • Are you satisfied with your DITA solution? -The 2017 Content Wrangler DITA Satisfaction Survey asked respondents to rank the top 10 issues facing DITA users. Learn more about the survey and results.
  • DITA Dissatisfaction Part 1: Skills Development – This problem area is far and away the most pressing obstacle for a successful DITA deployment. Too often authors are left to figure out how to adapt to writing for DITA on their own.
  • DITA Dissatisfaction Part 2: Technology – We often hear about the failure of the technology as it relates to performance or complexity. While technology may seem the most likely culprit, it is often not the root cause of the problem.


[i] DITA Satisfaction Survey published by The Content Wrangler on May 31, 2017. Listen to an analysis of the results by Rob Hanna, Keith Schengili-Roberts, Mark Lewis, and Scott Abel and download a copy of the results today from BrightTalk at

[ii] Preparing for Successful Content Management presented by Rob Hanna in May 2008 at the 55th Annual STC Summit in Philadelphia, PA.

[iii] 10 Million DITA Topics Can’t Be Wrong presented by Keith Schengili-Roberts in December 2016 at the Content Wrangler Virtual Summit.

[iv] Information Governance Equals Information Opportunity presented by Rob Hanna in May 2017 at the Information Development World conference in Menlo Park, CA.

[v] Innovating Content Creation and Reuse underwritten by Precision Content and published by the Association for Imaging and Information Management ( in January 2016.


Join the Precision in Practice Newsletter

* indicates required


Recent Posts