By Beth Agnew | STC Associate Fellow
The culmination of our work as technical communicators is to produce and deliver information products that meet business goals. While those activities occur at the end of the project life cycle, initial work is done at the beginning to determine the outcomes and deliverables for the project. What are we creating? Why are we doing it? How will we know when we’re done? How will we know we’ve succeeded? On a project, you need more than good intentions and an idea of where you’ll end up.
Explorer Christopher Columbus had some good intentions. At the start of his voyage, he thought he’d get to India. For a fellow who didn’t know where he was going, didn’t know how to get there, and didn’t know where he was when he arrived, he came up with a decent deliverable by landing in North America. Attaining the business goal of a trade route to India, however, completely missed the mark. His chances of success would have been much better with some specific objectives, mapped to project activities that would produce expected deliverables.
Part of our value to a company or client is to think things through to conclusion. That means ensuring the documentation or services we provide match the intended outcomes that were identified at the beginning. Stated outcomes are targets for all your work on a project. They inform the processes of technical communication, and help you focus on activities that contribute to the deliverables.
Working toward specified outcomes provides a predictable pathway to completion. In a business climate that celebrates lean, agile, and efficient resource management, knowing precisely what to do to meet an outcome keeps you on track and reduces wasted effort.
When concrete results are expected from your work, your deliverables become visible and measurable—much easier for teammates to understand, and your clients to value. Precise objectives are more easily articulated and shared, especially when you are collaborating with subject matter experts or determining end users’ needs.
Outcomes also help you show progress during the life of the project. They provide ways to measure the effectiveness of the work you’re doing, including time and budget projections, identification of quality targets, and estimates for use of resources.
For example, a business goal may be to “reduce technical support calls by 20% over the next 6 months.” The technical communicator’s responsibilities on this project could include improved documentation, improved usability on the product(s) in question, and additional content for the company’s support website. Project outcomes could be an updated user guide, a completed interface review, and an FAQ for the website. Those three deliverables are then tools the company can use to achieve the business goal.
When the work products are complete, deliverables are assessed against the outcomes. Any diversions from the original plan can be analyzed and understood, with knowledge captured for future quality improvement. The lessons learned become either best practices or cautionary tales for subsequent projects.
Mastery at the Foundation level
By affirming your knowledge of production and delivery through Foundation certification, you ensure what you’ve produced serves the needs of your users and your company.
BETH AGNEW is an accredited trainer and one of the first to achieve CPTC certification, which she continues to hold at the Expert level. She is a professor, and co-ordinates the post-graduate Technical Communication program at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada. Beth is an STC Associate Fellow. Seneca College is a CPTC accredited training organization, providing Foundation training to graduates and working professionals. For information on upcoming courses, see http://senecatechcomm.com/certification.
Johnson-Sheehan, R. 2015. Technical Communication Today, 5th ed. Boston: Pearson.
Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC) Study Guide, Society for Technical Communication, see https://www.stc.org/certification/ for current URL.