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Top motivators for successfully upgrading your output

By Jacquie Samuels

There comes a point in your technical communication career when you look at the content you’re delivering to your end users and you realize the unfortunate reality: what you deliver to your end users is just not good enough anymore.

Change isn’t a big red buttoniceberg-hardwork

However, when people come to us looking for help by saying “I need to upgrade our output,” it’s a huge red flag for us. Change isn’t just a big red button. To upgrade the content you’re delivering, you must consider your whole content strategy. To enhance your output and delivery, you need an infrastructure enhancement underpinning the entire content strategy. The result is enhanced output but, just like an iceberg, the big changes and all the hard work, are under the surface.

 

Success depends on the type of motivation you have

For us, the motivation for change can really indicate how likely you are to succeed in getting the project off the ground and all the way through to success.

Weak change motivators

Sometimes change transpires because we have our eye on the shiny, beautiful part of the iceberg above the surface:

  •      fancy HTML5 documentation, all beautifully filterable and searchable
  •      online help delivered in a mobile app for a handheld device, or
  •      a chatbot, reading out your content in a meaningful, interactive way.

We maybe compare our boring sets of PDFs with a completely different way of delivering content and wonder “Why aren’t we doing this?” This can be a good starting point but is a weak motivator to usher in change. The ideas around change must be more than skin deep or you’ll end up spending a lot for a shiny tool that can’t grow and innovate with you. Of course, take your motivation wherever you can find it. A weak change motivator means you need to be incredibly convincing when you make the full business case for the change. Ideally, if you start weak, you can look a little deeper and find your strong change motivator.

Strong change motivators

The following are some typical scenarios for strong motivators for change.

Strong motivators

Scenario

Top-down

A manager wants to enhance tech doc toolset, processes, and skills as part of the continuous improvement goals of a company.

A senior sponsor champions a new solution to become less of a cost centre and more of a profit center.

A senior manager has experienced technical documentation excellence at a previous company and identifies a gap at your company.

Bottom-up

Authors insist on change because their day-to-day work duties are manual to the point of ridiculousness.

The content reaches a level of complexity that is no longer sustainable.

  • Authors need to reuse content but can’t.
  • Content lacks consistency and reliability.
  • Content changes aren’t traceable but have regulatory requirements to be auditable.
  • Internal processes are broken or get in the way of being productive.

Outside in

End-users can’t access your content on the device they want. They have difficulty finding or using the content.

You OEM documentation and the time spent on merging or re-branding content from or to a partner is excessive.

 

What makes a motivator strong

A strong motivator is one that goes deeper than the cosmetic changes that are needed. It identifies a systemic issue or considers the entire solution, not just the published part that’s visible to management and end users.

It’s often one that can be broken down into discrete parts, to be measured, tracked, and managed. You can start thinking of requirements right away and you can identify some of the related changes in infrastructure, content, processes, and tools that will help you achieve your goal.

Bottom-up motivators

Even though these bottom-up motivators may be a strong start to change, it still means that the manager has a huge uphill struggle to convince the people above her that the change is needed and that there will be a return on investment. For those managers who aren’t elbows-deep in tech, the perceived return might be the above-the-water output you can show them. But that can’t be the real motivator at the heart of the project.

Enhanced output requires a content strategy

The trap you can sometimes fall into is that sometimes tool vendors will tell you they can get you the output you so desire if you just buy their tool. It’s never that easy. A tool (and yes, possibly even their tool) will be part of the solution; however, taking a wider view to the solution is essential to success.

And, I cannot stress this enough, not just your immediate success but your ability to enhance your tech docs in the longer term, over the next decade and beyond. I’ve seen so many people reach a dead end with their content because they bought into a slick looking tool that will eventually limit them rather than help them grow. That tool locks them into that particular solution and the way back is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.

 A content strategy takes the larger picture into consideration. It includes a tool strategy; once you’ve defined what you need and where you want to go, then you can consider the best ways to get there.

Your output, the tip of your iceberg, is the result of your entire content strategy coming together in a way that can be adaptive and continuously innovative.

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