Presented at DocTrain East 2007 by Scott Abel, TheContentWrangler.com -- Increasingly, technical documentation, training, and support center managers are being asked by executive management to provide real metrics in order to justify costs, or find ways to cut them. How is that possible without tools to collect those metrics? In organizations that value content as an asset, managers are provided with relevant training and the requisite tools needed to effectively manage their departments and the products they create. You won't see managers in these organizations using an Excel spreadsheet to track metrics manually. Nor will you see them do dozens of other time-sucking tasks that most documentation managers have to do by hand today.
Being an effective manager means having an understanding of exactly what's going on in your department so you can deploy and manipulate human, financial, intellectual, intangible, and material resources to accomplish organizational goals. Managers need to stop using less-than-efficient mechanisms for collecting metrics and make requisite changes that allow them to collect metrics that can help make informed business decisions based on observable, measurable facts.
Managers need to be able to see everything at-a-glance -- who’s doing what, where the bottlenecks are, how many topics have been started, how many are done, how many are in editing, how many have been approved, how many have not yet been started, how many are being translated, how many already have been translated, how many have been retranslated, how much does it cost to create a topic, how much to translate one, what is the cost of a reusable topic, etc. These metrics, and others, can be captured automatically by content management systems that include tools designed to provide managers with real-time reporting information to help them make informed decisions. Using software tools to collect and disseminate relevant project information is a much more effective approach to managing technical documentation and training projects than relying on team members to guess. It's the difference between someone on your team saying “it’s about half done” and seeing the actual--trackable--progress and status data, and being able to act upon it in a professional, responsible, efficient manner.
Most managers don't have a good snapshot of what's going on in their departments, especially if they rely on spreadsheets and white boards to keep track of their efforts. While this approach may seem reasonable, it's not. It's based on a "good enough" mentality. When we can't seem to find a way to do it right, we say, "Well, at least we're doing something. That's good enough." Unfortunately, "good enough" is neither efficient nor sufficient. When others try using the "good enough" mentality, we staunchly object. We push back when software developers design systems that create unnecessary clicks or make using the software more difficult than it should be.When they say, "Hey, it works as it was designed to and that's good enough," we say, "No, it's not good enough. It's broken and here's how it should work." We often point out when things don't work as users need them to work.
The spreadsheet/white board approach used in many technical documentation departments relies on human beings to collect and manage data. Humans are error-prone and don't come with an audit trail. Humans also have other characteristics that get in the way of effective management of content: jealously, emotion, forgetfulness, illness, ego, etc. Content quality management software tools are designed to help managers of technical documentation teams and training departments get a grip on their content production processes and manage resources effectively, without any of the challenges human managers -- and their staffs -- can introduce.
Software vendors are starting to recognize the importance of providing software tools that automatically gather and report metrics for a wide varie