By Ken SCHATZKE | STC Senior Member
You’ve successfully implemented an authoring solution for your organization’s technical communications team. You’re single sourcing online help, manuals, specifications, release notes, and other technical content. You’re translating that content into dozens of languages. You’re saving your team time and your organization money. Your solution has even turned a few heads in management. Now they’re wondering if you can roll out your solution to other teams in your organization.
Technical communicators create and maintain a lot of content for their organization’s customers, but they’re rarely the only ones doing so. Knowledge workers in other teams—from marketing to sales to implementation to support—are also producing content. This content can take many different forms and is often maintained in a variety of systems, from simple word-processor documents and spreadsheets to sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) systems and knowledge bases.
Organizations are increasingly realizing that having separate teams maintaining content for their customers in different systems is counterproductive. Ultimately, it’s the same customers consuming this content, and they don’t particularly care which team in your organization created a piece of content, as long as it meets their needs and helps them realize their goals.
This realization was one factor my employer, SMART Technologies, considered when it decided to adopt the Unified Commercial Engine (UCE). This business model organizes customer-facing teams, such as technical communications, around the customer journey and encourages breaking down silos that often emerge in organizations over time.
As I write this, we’re in the early stages of adopting UCE, but our team has been encouraged to find ways to share our authoring solution, and the best practices we’ve developed around it, with other customer-facing teams. In this article, I’ll review the five-step process we’re using to do just this. Whether or not your organization is implementing a business model like UCE, you can use these same steps to collaborate with the customer-facing teams in your organization.
Step 1: Research Your Customers
Collaborating with other teams is a process internal to your organization, so it might seem strange to start by first learning about your organization’s external customers. Remember that all the content your team and other teams create is ultimately for those customers. Having a fundamental understanding of who those customers are will allow you to communicate more effectively with other teams.
If your organization sells products to businesses (in other words, it’s B2B), your typical customer likely consists of more than one type of user: the end user who uses the product in their day-to-day work, the IT or other technical specialist who installs the product, the purchasing manager who decides to buy the product, the third-party developers who create add-ons or accessories for the product, and more. If your organization hasn’t already created personas for these different user types, you might want to take the initiative yourself. There are extensive resources on the web to help you create personas (I’ve included a few in this article’s References section).
Once you have personas, identify which of them benefit from your team’s content. If there are personas that your team doesn’t support, do some research to identify if other teams are supporting them in some manner.
Step 2: Research Your Team’s Authoring Solution
You’ve likely spent years developing your authoring solution. Before you roll that solution out to other organizations, it’s a good idea to review it. What are the solution’s main strengths? What are its weaknesses? Which elements of the solution would be the easiest to roll out to other teams, and which elements would be more difficult for those teams to implement?
Capture your answers to all these questions in a format that you can share with other teams. For example, you could create an interactive form that the members of these teams could fill out to determine whether your solution would be a good fit.
Step 3: Reach Out to Other Teams
With personas and a thorough understanding of your team’s authoring solution in place, you next need to identify other teams that can benefit from that solution and reach out to them. This can be more difficult than it sounds. Even a moderately sized company can consist of dozens of small teams, with members in locations around the world. While not all of your organization’s teams might benefit from collaborating with you, you might be surprised by the ones that can. For example, you might find that a sales team for a particular region is creating its own training courses, because the training team based in your organization’s headquarters isn’t providing content localized for that region.
You’ll likely need to reach out to your manager and HR department to map out your entire organization and identify potential partner teams. If your organization maintains an intranet site or uses a human resource information system (HRIS) like Workday, you can leverage these resources in creating your map.
Once you’ve mapped out your organization and identified potential partner teams, reach out to their managers or team leads. Arrange a meeting where you can introduce yourself and your team and inquire about the other team and its needs. In particular, you want to identify the following:
- The type of content the team creates
- How frequently the team updates this content
- The users (personas) of this content
- The tools and processes that the other team already has in place for creating content
- Any benefits the team is realizing from its tools and processes
- Any pain points the other team is encountering with its tools and processes
- Any other issues or considerations of which your team should be aware
It’s important to clarify that you want to collaborate in a bottom-up way. You’re not attempting to take over the other team or its work. You just want to find ways your two teams can come together, benefit from each other’s experience, and ultimately serve your organization’s customers better.
As your teams get to know each other, take the opportunity to introduce the other teams to your authoring solution. Use the research you completed in step two to identify the benefits of your solution and determine if it is an appropriate fit for the other team and its content. You’ll then be ready to start working together.
Step 4: Start Small
You’ve established a relationship with the other teams in your organization that create content. Hopefully, all teams involved are excited about this opportunity to collaborate, streamline processes, and create better content, using your authoring solution as a foundation.
Your first instinct might be to take advantage of this positive energy and begin rolling out your entire authoring solution to the other teams. However, this might not be the best first step for various reasons:
The other teams likely have well-established tools and processes. While those tools and processes aren’t perfect, the teams are comfortable with them and can continue to use them to create content—at least in the short term.
Authoring solutions are complex. It likely took months—if not years—to implement the authoring solution within your own team. It could take as long, or longer, to roll it out to other teams, and if you roll out the solution too quickly or without considering the other teams’ specific needs, you’ll damage the new relationships you’ve established.
Instead, start small with one focused pilot project. Is there a deliverable that another team is struggling with that your team’s authoring solution could help them with? Is there a persona that isn’t being served well by any team’s content? Is there a major prospect in the pipeline that could be converted to a sale if offered a deliverable like an interactive quick reference? Ideally, the pilot project should be small in scope and span—at most, a few months.
Once you’ve established a pilot project, work with the other teams to create a plan. As in any project plan, it should outline who will do what and when they’ll do it. Include time for the other teams to learn and use your authoring solution, and include a means for them to provide you with feedback on the solution.
More than likely, you’ll find that your team’s solution isn’t a perfect fit for other teams. You’ll need to make adjustments. Starting off with a small pilot project allows you to make those adjustments without delaying a larger implementation effort. If you can turn around content faster and with better quality as part of the pilot project, you have evidence for moving forward with a broader implementation of your authoring solution.
Step 5: Go Big
All the work you did in the first four steps of this process should be paying dividends:
- You have a better understanding of your organization’s customers.
- You have established relationships with other teams that create content for those customers.
- You completed a pilot project during which another team tried out your authoring solution, and you adjusted the solution to meet their needs.
You’re now ready to roll out your complete solution to the other teams. You’ll likely need to come up with an extensive project plan and budget and seek approval from senior management. The good news is that you’ve done your homework, and your rollout should be more successful as a result.
Your technical communications team is a group of technical content experts. You likely have decades of combined experience that you’ve baked into your authoring solution. It only makes sense to share that experience with other content producers in your organization. Following this five-step process can ensure you do so in a way that’s collaborative and will ultimately benefit everyone—including your customers.
Ken Schatzke (email@example.com) is a content strategist and architect with SMART Technologies in Calgary, Canada. Ken is part of a team of technical communicators who create content for SMART’s suite of interactive touch displays and collaborative technology. He is a senior member of STC and a Certified Professional Technical Communicator (CPTC).
Dam, Rikke Friis, and Teo Yu Siang. 2020. “Personas—A Simple Introduction.” Interaction Design Foundation.
Goltz, Shlomo. 2014. “A Closer Look at Personas: What They Are and How They Work.” Smashing Magazine. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/08/a-closer-look-at-personas-part-1.
Usability.gov. n.d. “Personas.” Accessed 20 April 2020. https://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/personas.html.