Tag: <span>Information Strategy</span>

I’m always wary of buzzwords and industry fads, and will always take, primarily, a business focused view on any new theory (or strategy) that I hear about until I fully understand its real life application. Such is the case with Content Strategy.

It’s something I’ve talked about on here before (under the guise of Information Strategy) but whilst I’ve a good idea of how it could benefit our company, I’ve struggled to get buy-in. Whilst Content Strategy discussions go well, everyone thinks that a coherent and consistent set of content is a good thing, where we seem to struggle is getting commitment to getting the actual work done to bring things into line. The high level Content Audit I completed about 18 months ago is about as far as we got.

So, rather than try and get everyone on-board from the outset we are now starting from the bottom up by providing a technical product information service to our sales team. Essentially, our team will be providing source content that can be used by our PreSales team to inform potential customers what our product can do. It’s an important part of our sales cycle, and will mean that we will have a consistent set of information, used across different areas of the company, all sourced and developed with a common view (and reuse) in mind.

The route we are taking towards a company wide content strategy may take us a while (my gutfeel is that, once the ball is rolling and word gets out, other areas of the company will soon come on board) but ultimately we will end up in the same place. The advantages are that we can make decisions on the way, replan a lot more easily (we don’t need to get it as ‘almost’ right as we would if we were tackling a larger amount of work) and crucially we don’t need any ‘stop the world’ moments.

I work in a fast paced company, we are light on paperwork, and whilst we apply good rigour and quality to what we do, we only do whatever we need, and are quick to change or drop processes if they bring no value. It’s a great place to work, but keeping up with the pace of change in our product is a constant challenge to the technical writing team, so this approach to tackling the introduction of a content strategy stands a very good chance of succeeding.

Naturally this approach will present some challenges, we will probably need to schedule some form of review of the work as it progresses to make sure it’s not becoming too focused on it’s initial use, and I’ve no doubt that we may have to rework some of the content later on when we have a better understanding of the big picture, but I think it will work.

And hey, life’s nothing without a challenge!

Work



When was the last time you looked at the things you don’t do?

The reason I ask is that this very question is occupying my mind at the moment as I try to pull together both a content audit of what we have and a plan to create the things we don’t have. Which isn’t as easy as it may sound.

There are three or four different departments involved in the audit, and from each I’ve asked the same two things:

  1. A list of all the content you currently have
  2. A list of all the content you would like to have

With both lists in place, and understanding that some items in the first list may also need some rework or ongoing maintenance, we should all have a good view of what everyone else is doing and be able to plan a smarter way to produce more of the items in list two.

Whilst this is nothing radical it should help us by making people step back to see the big picture and allow us to move forward in one direction. Once this phase of the content audit is complete, the next stage, planning how to fill some of the “would like to have” gaps, will begin and once we start producing this content, regular catchups will help keep everyone up-to-speed and make sure we all focussed towards the same goals.

The tricky bit will be populating the second list. Asking your audience or colleagues for input will lead to one thing, a very big long list of “hey, do you know what would be REALLY good…” style requests. I’m more than happy to field those and they are, for the most part, good to have noted down.

Where it starts to get tricky is in the prioritisation of these things, and for that you’ll need to get some of the interested parties together to help. I’ve already covered how I do that but to make that process a bit slicker (it’s very ad-hoc at the moment) I’ll be setting up a common “Information Planning” meeting. That way we can involve the pertinent stakeholders in the decision process, and it will help communicate the ongoing plans around the Information Strategy.

Work

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typing_monkey


The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. As such, it stands to reason that two monkeys would be able to produce the same volume of output, but are unlikely to write exactly the same thing. Add in a few more monkeys to the equation and suddenly you have lots of content, none of which really relates to anything else.

I’ll stop with the monkey metaphor before I insult anyone.

Consistency is an important part of communication, even at the simplest level of having a common terminology, using the same words consistently throughout a document helps the reader learn. Take this idea up a level, from a single document to a number of documents and maintaining the same terminology across all documents can further help re-enforce the messaging and aid learning, and should give the reader a level of comfort that the entire set of information has been thought of, and delivered, as a cohesive set.

Move up the stack one more time and you start to look around at surrounding areas of information, outside of product documentation, produced by a different department and it’s here that consistency starts to suffer.

Typically Technical Communications teams will spend some time developing their own Style Guide (however loose), and agree a basic set of terminology, also known as the Product Glossary. Having been involved with creating a Product Glossary in the past, it’s interesting that other areas of the company see it as being a ‘documentation thing’, until such times as you get them to sit down and help you compose entries for it.

I know that the information produced by my team will be consistent and is written in a similar enough style that it won’t ‘jar’ the reader. In other words, it doesn’t matter who wrote the information, it is all part of one larger set of documentation, with a similar tone, voice and style.

Aiming the information at the correct audience is a key part of deciding what the three attributes of tone, voice and style, should be, and it’s at this point that I find other departments starting to struggle. Without a clear idea of the audience, and with their own perception of what the message (the terminology) needs to be, there is a tendency to wander off message, and produce a document which, whilst perfectly good in isolation, doesn’t seem to fit into the overall set of product information.

So what type of information is this? Well it varies, and can be tracked through the customer (or company) journey and their interactions with your company and product. Broadly speaking there are four levels, all of which need to be talking to the correct audience, and ideally should be providing the same message in a consistent manner.

  1. First up there is an introduction, a high level chat about our product and what it can do. This is typically a mix of marketing brochures, website collateral, and sales presentations.
  2. The next level of interaction delves a little deeper into the business benefits and key selling points of the product, and can start to touch on product features and capabilities.
  3. After that, there is a need to provide a level of technical information, outlining the architecture and fundamental design of your product, detail the full set of capabilities, and provide reassurance around any potential implementation issues that may arise.
  4. And then we get to product documentation, training material, and ongoing support and maintenance information.

Four levels of information, all of which should be saying the same thing about the product, regardless of what message that is.

It would be wrong to say that each level is unique, as each interaction your company has with a customer will vary, but largely speaking the four levels allow anyone who is creating information to better understand their audience. Add in a Product Glossary to ensure terminology is consistent, and a strong product message and there is no reason why any of the content being produced cannot be consistent.

Mapping these levels to the amount of content available at each level gives us the following:

pyramid


Of course this is a very simplistic model, but as a starting point, it at least provides the mechanism for anyone about to create new content to pause and consider the audience. So whilst you could add in several levels, and several different mappings of document types, I think it’s better to leave things a little open to question as that helps bring a better understanding of why the content is being produced in the first place.

I first introduced this model to my current company several months ago, and we are currently revisiting this to make sure it is still a good fit to our needs. The next step for me is beefing up our Product Glossary, and then we can get on with the thornier issue of document management, an intrinsic part of having a Content Strategy for your company.

Work

cu_home_taking_notes

I have been remiss at writing new content for this blog, and whilst this topic isn’t one that I said I’d post about (those posts are coming, I promise), it’s something I was discussing yesterday and so is at the forefront of my mind.

Like many people I still use pen and paper when taking notes, and regardless of the type of meeting I stick with three basic categories.

  1. [] Actions either for me or my team to do. Includes things that need done immediately or things which it would be good to do in the future.
  2. ? Questions on things I want to learn more about, which relate to my team. Whilst these may also be actions (typically they involve asking people questions) I differentiate them because, until I’ve asked the question, I don’t know enough to decide on whether there is anything to be done (caveat: if it is a burning issue, I’ll like put this against both categories ? [] ).
  3. I Information which covers all sorts of things from useful URLs, to quotes, to product names and so on.

I also “style” my notes, with the appropriate shorthand symbol first, then a gap, then the text for that item. Keeping that consistent makes it very easy to scan down my notes to process them.

[] email report to Fred
[] speak to Tina about next phase of work
? what is the cognitive learning project, who is running it?
[] write a blog post on the Information Strategy Pyramid
I stats for last week 103 open, 74 closed

Processing the notes, again, depends on the type of note.

For actions as, unless they can be done straight away (I think that is a GTD methodology thing? If it takes 1 minute to do it, and 1 minute to write it up and put it in a list, then you are better just doing it), they are transcribed into an online task manager application I use called Remember the Milk. It has a very nice iPhone app which makes it easy to “take my list” with me at all times.

Questions are simply a matter of being asked. That may drive further actions or information which are captured accordingly.

Anything I’ve noted down as information is either processed electronically, if it’s something online I’ll visit it and either bookmark it in my del.icio.us account, add it to my list on Instapaper (again, which has an excellent iPhone app), or grab it and store for later in Evernote (again, a useful iPhone app helps).

Whilst all of that seems like a lot of work, it’s very maintainable, and I spend less than 20 mins a day processing my notes. However it helps me keep on top of several different streams of work, and so far it hasn’t let me down. I’ve been using the shorthand symbols for a long time now, but obviously the electronic processing of these things is new.

So, what about you? How do you take notes? Are you a mindmapper? A random scribbler? Or do you, like one lady who attend a presentation I did a few years ago, do you draw out the subject and the notes in one go?

Work

Last night, around 3am, I woke up. I lay there in bed wondering why I’d woken up and as my mind started to churn I realised I was very very awake.

In flooded four things I’ve been thinking about for some time, all of which are related but I couldn’t quite make the connection. Last night I cracked it. Maybe.

I’m still thinking it through but here are the four items in question:

  1. Single sourcing our documentation – and recent discussions with other areas of the company who could benefit from the same approach.
  2. Company Information Strategy – a simple pyramid based model that allows everyone creating content to ‘map’ their audience appropriately and which should start to help with consistency of terminology and messaging.
  3. Document Management – there have been some murmurings about this from a few people and it’s likely to fall into my lap.
  4. Requirements gathering – we’ve recently rolled out a new process which should lead to better requirements for each project build.

All of these are tied together, and if planned properly can feed off each other. Naturally there is quite a lot involved with all of the above and I’ll be revisiting items one and two in the coming weeks.

Ohh and I’ve still to pull together a slide deck on “selling our services”, which involves all of the above and more. Once it’s ready, I’ll share it here.

Exciting times ahead.

Work