This Is the Future We Talked about


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This Is the Future We Talked about: Today’s Tech Comm Trends and the New Workplace

We're seeing more changes in technical communication today than at any time in memory. We’re living in the future that we talked about just a few years ago.

Explore the landscape of the new world of tech comm, and discover the skills and understanding you’ll need in order to thrive in it. Audiences expect to connect emotionally with the technical content they read, so we’ll talk about how we can create and nurture those connections. Audiences expect to access content on mobile devices – as well as in all of the traditional formats – so we’ll find out how to develop content that meets those expectations. We’ll also discuss the need to demonstrate value by creating content that contributes directly to the business’s bottom line.

We’ll spend much of our time examining the new tech comm workplace, where you’ll likely work as part of several distributed teams on projects that are increasingly shorter and more focused.

To thrive in this environment you’ll need to master, or at least be conversant in:
- Structured authoring, which makes content more flexible: more adaptable to different mobile formats, and more easily arranged into different packages for different audiences.
- Content strategy, the key to seeing content as a unified whole: not as separate books, brochures, and web pages, but as information that supports the objectives of the business.
- Information architecture, the tactics for carrying out the content strategy. Even if you never hold the job title, you'll want to be able to ask the kinds of questions an information architect would ask.

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  • Here’s what we’ll cover todayWelcome to the futureTrends in the Tech Comm professionToday’s Tech Comm workplaceToday’s technical writerThe picture is of football coach George AllenHe traded several of his draft choices(Draft choices are the way pro football teams get young players from college)When asked, shouldn’t you be thinking about the future?He shook his head and said The future is now – it became his mottoIn the end, Coach Allen’s teams didn’t succeedWithout an infusion of young players, they couldn’t competeCoach Allen ended up with the same number of Super Bowl rings as I have: ZeroSo while I like the quote, and I chose it to begin the webinar….I hope you won’t make the same mistake as Coach AllenHe said, don’t even think about the futureI’m saying, think about the future – and when you do, realize that it’s already begun
  • So, what about the future? We’ve seen a lot of conference sessions and webinars……and read a lot of blog postsAbout the future of Tech CommHow much things are changingAbout trends I’ve contributed my share to the conversation But you come back from the conferenceAnd go back to doing the same work you’ve been doing for years If you’re a full-time employee, you’re publishing the same PDFs as alwaysAnd your customers seem to be happy with them If you’re a contractor, your clients aren’t asking for adaptive mobile appsOr DITA-based help systems that display content based on customers’ preferences If you’re thinking that the future looks a lot like the past……Perhaps your employers still don’t understand the value of what we doIt’s a new world, with new kinds of customer expectations……and new ways of deploying content (all kinds of content) as a business assetYet too many companies still view Tech Comm as a “nice thing to have” or as overheadPart of my purpose today is to change that perception
  • We’ll cover these 5 trends:You might be surprised by some of themRemember to post questions in the chat areaContent as a business assetTechnical writing as an emotional experienceBreaking down barriers (collaboration)Going mobileA new definition of quality
  • Businesses are starting to realize that content is more than just words and pictures Deployed intelligently, content is a business assetIt can help build up the corporate brand and create customer goodwillThe key is, it has to be deployed intelligently – or strategicallyThe ad hoc, tactical approach of the past just doesn't cut it.This is about content strategy, which I’ll cover in detail laterFor now, let’s just say that the content strategy:Provides rules and guidelines for what content gets developed and how it gets publishedGuarantees that content works in harmony, aligning with customers’ goals and the business's goalsThe more we, as technical communicators grasp that content is a business asset…The more we'll insist on having a content strategyThe better we'll get at developing those strategiesand the more value we'll bring to the business
  • In the past we were taught that tech writing is different:It’s not fiction or poetry; there’s no emotion, nothing personal Yet in today’s world, people have come to expect something more from technical content:They want to feel confident they can do the jobThey want to feel “in the know” – like the author is confiding in themOften they want to feel like they’re part of a community……of people who use the same product or do the same task These are emotional responsesAnd the very best technical writing evokes these responsesThe feeling of confidence – “you’ve got this!”The sense of belonging Increasingly, good technical writing cultivates trust among readersCustomers are willing to read content because they trust it to help themHow about you?Do you want to feel that you can trust the docs?Do you read blogs and forums rather than the “official” docs? Research is finding that good documentation can help increase salesThis is because it creates confidence in the company’s brand
  • In the past, technical docs came from just one place: the Tech Pubs department Today, technical content comes from all over:Prospective customers want technical info to evaluate a product……So the marketing organization produces technical content Tech support might post a blog or an FAQ page with customer-support info More than that:Customers write blogs and other web content to help each otherAfter-market books, like “Dummies” or “Missing Manual” are popular We just talked about managing content so that it’s consistent, and in harmonyHow can you do this when the content is coming from so many sources? I’ll answer that question later For now: This era of collaboration changes the ways we’ve always done thingsIt also provides opportunities for us
  • The world is going mobileWhen people need information, they expect fast and easy access from wherever they happen to beWhat does that mean for those of us who produce that information?Content has to be adaptive: Compatible with the various smartphones, tablets, and other devices where it'll be readThe best content is both adaptive and responsive: It can modify its format according to the characteristics of the screen on which it's being displayed(These definitions courtesy of Charles Cooper of the Rockley Group)Then there's smart contentIt "learns" your personal preferences and "knows" your physical locationIt can recommend the best place nearby to get a good bowl of chiliOr how to tune your particular car's engine for the driving conditions where you liveGartner: By 2015 tablets will outsell laptops and desktops combined Add smartphones on top of thatYou can see that the future has arrivedSo there you goContent needs to be adaptive. Responsive. Smart. How do we make it that way?We know a few things, which I’ll cover laterBut there are still a lot of unknowns – a lot of challengesHere's the thing: someone is going to figure out how to meet the challengesFailure isn't an option; customer demand is simply too greatThat’s the opportunity for us:I want to be one of those people who's out there finding solutionsIt's an exciting time to be a technical communicator!
  • Agile, or “Just in Time” development, began as a software methodology but is likely to gain acceptance in other industries as well. Emphasizing flexibility and responsiveness to customer requirements…… agile is characterized by:Short product cycles, made up of sprintsProduct updates are smaller, shipped more frequentlyProducts and documentation are often shipped before being thoroughly tested and editedThis practice is based on two assumptions: Customers are eager to get the new materials as quickly as possibleAny errors or bugs can be fixed easily in the next updateWritersUA 2014 Tools & Skills survey (Joe Welinske):57 percent of software tech writers are working in agileThis percentage has soared in just the last few yearsI foresee this practice gaining a foothold in other industries besides softwareIn this age of social media, companies are eager to be seen as responsive to customers’ needsAlso, companies are reluctant to sink huge investments in a project……without knowing whether it’s going to succeed in the marketplace
  • Lorem ipsumGeorge Jetson:He lived in the world of the 21st centurySpecifically, the world of 100 years in the futureThe Jetsons first aired in 196252 years agoWe’re closer (in time) to George Jetson’s world than we are to the world of 1962Yet I’m afraid that many of us work in places where it might as well still be 1962Here are some aspects of the 21st century world that we all should be embracing:Knowing the value of what we do – this is the big one; it sets the tone for everything elseCollaboration – information contributed bymany sources, inside and outside the companyContent strategy – A value-oriented approach to all of the organization’s contentStructured authoring – The way to make information more flexible and more readily available
  • When I talk about today’s workplace….Everything is in the context of business senseIn other words, all of the things I’m going to cover….Have to do with Technical Communication adding valueAs technical communicators we need to get over our inferiority complexI’m just a tiny dot on the org chart – no one will listen to what I have to sayRemember: If you want to talk about content as a business asset…….about content strategy…You’re stepping from the tactical world of your Tech Pubs department…….to the strategic world of the boardroomWhat you have to say, deserves to be heardBut it’ll be heard only if you speak the language of the executivesAnd that language is the business caseThe business case, very simply, is an argument that shows why a suggested improvement is good for the bottom lineYou’re showing that investing in something (a process or design change)….….will result in financial gain that surpasses the cost of the investmentIn other words, it results in a positive return on investmentTwo kinds of business cases:(Two ways to affect the bottom line)Cost avoidance – saving money by eliminating costsRevenue enhancement – earning more money, usually through increased sales of the product
  • Yes, a business case will force you to do some mathSo how do you get the numbers for making the business case?Here are two examples:1. Make a cost avoidance business case by talking with your Tech Support staffFind out how much a support call costs, and how many calls can be prevented by good docs(Traditionally, the business case for Tech Pubs has centered on cost avoidance)2. Make a revenue enhancement business case by showing that good docs attract new customersWhen choosing what to buy, more and more people factor in the quality of the docsIs your product’s doc available on the web for customers and prospective customers?If it is, can you find data that shows how many people were influenced to buy?If it’s not, what if it were? Can you find data from another company in your industry?Sample business cases in Content Strategy 101 by Sarah O’Keefe and Alan Pringle….….illustrate ways in which you can estimate costs and benefitsThey show that, often, Tech Pubs really can affect the bottom lineThis has to be our mind-set: That what we do, adds value for the businessOtherwise we simply have no reason to be doing it
  • If content has valueIn other words, if content is a business assetThen it makes sense to deploy that asset in a systematic, strategic wayErgo, content strategy This is NOT a tutorial in content strategyThere are good books – notably Rahel Bailie’s and Noz Urbina’s new one: titled “Content Strategy” So what do I mean by content strategy?Let’s start with two definitions Kristina Halvorson: “Recommendations about how to create, deliver, and govern web content” I’d broaden it by dropping the qualifier “web” – it really should apply to all content that customers might see Halvorson coined the term content lifecycleShe makes it clear that content strategy is about much more than just creating contentIt’s about planning it, delivering it, and controlling it, and maintaining it (that includes deciding when it’s no longer needed) The second definition: Rahel Bailie: Content strategy is “...aligning content to business goals, analysis, and modeling” Bailie emphasizes the idea that content has to support the goals of the businessSuddenly content emerges from the obscure hinterlands of the Tech Pubs or Marketing department….….And finds itself right in the center of the board roomContent is tied with business processes likeBrandingAnalyzing things like product effectiveness and customer satisfactionCreating business models and positioning the product suite to fit themBoth of these definitions help us see that content strategy gives us a “big picture” way of looking at contentThe content we show our customers should work together, never at cross purposesIt should be planned and managed for as long as it existsIt has to be aligned to the goals of the business
  • Your organization has content in a number of different formsTechnical documentation (including imbedded help, etc.) is one of themIt’s time to stop thinking of documentation and everything elseYour customers get the documentation (from your Tech Pubs organization)Hopefully non-customers can see the documentation too – but that’s not always the caseThey also see marketing content, which may or may not look like what’s on the websiteThey might have access to tech support forumsYour company might even have caught onto Social mediaBut it’s all kind of disparateNo unified approachNot even consistent branding, imagingThe message your customers get is garbled, confusing
  • Now, add to this disparate, garbled set of stuff….Whatever the “after market” is saying about youThis is the customer forums, the Dummies books, the social media feeds you don’t controlAnd you can have a real mess(Apologies for the Comic SansBut in this case I wanted some dramatic effect)Instead, think of content as a unified wholeAll of it meets customer needs(It might meet their needs in different ways, at different stages of the buying cycle)All of it projects the same brand imageAll of it should be pulling in the same directionAll of it should be coordinated and mutually supportive 
  • The solution is to think of content as a unified wholeAll of it meets customer needs(It might meet their needs in different ways, at different stages of the buying cycle)All of it projects the same brand imageAll of it should be pulling in the same directionAll of it should be coordinated and mutually supportiveIn this new picture, we have the same elements as beforeIncluding the scary ones (social and after market)Now they’re harmonized, they’re moving in the same directionThey’re interlocked and managed strategically 
  • This is a webinar about you and the workplace of todaySo how do you make content strategy work for you? Find out whether your organization has a content strategyIf it does, great!Learn what the strategy is, and align your work with the strategy If the organization doesn’t have a content strategy (the far more likely case, I’m afraid):Can you create one?No, really – maybe you canRead up on the literature (there’s a LOT of it out there)Then take the lead: make a business case, get buy-in (Having a champion is a great idea)And you can make a difference! At least you can apply a strategic viewpoint to your current workInformation Architecture: building content structures of that work in harmonyYou might never have “Information Architect” in your job titleBut with more and more of you working on small teams or in “lone writer” situationsYou need to develop some expertise in Information Architecture
  • Again, collaboration means that many different people are contributing contentNot just the Tech Pubs department  We talked a few moments ago about “breaking down the barriers”Content comes from Marketing, Tech Support, and other parts of the companyCustomers are emerging as contributors of content Within the company, we have to create new partnerships between organizationsManagers like to refer to this as “breaking down silos” To achieve this collaboration, we have to create new workflowsHow will members of the different groups work together? (First, they have to learn to trust each other.) People in different organizations have to learn how to talk with each other (like a foreign language) Those things are all part of a content strategyAnd so is a plan to engage customers and others outside the company Examples of new workflows:Using wikis to collaborateBook sprints: intensive, “lock everyone in a room” sessionsA lot of open-source documentation is developed this wayAll participants are equals; everyone is expected to contribute Are you thinking, OMG –everyone is poaching on my territory?See it as an opportunity: You get to be the “SME about good writing”In fact, the others might be uncomfortable working on a writing projectYou can reassure them, and you can make sure that they contribute effectively Those things are all part of a content strategyAnd so is a plan to engage customers and others outside the company This era of collaboration changes the ways we’ve always done thingsIt also provides opportunities for us to fill new kinds of rolesAnd to take leadership as the “content experts”
  • When content comes from many different sources – including customers….…there’s a need for people to fill new kinds of rolesThese new roles present a real opportunity for us as technical communicatorsThis is stuff that we’re good at!Anne Gentle’s Conversation and Community is the best book on the topic of collaborationWhen I mentioned wikis, book sprints, and other collaborative techniques….…I was drawing on Anne’s bookOne role is the content curator: someone who decides how to organize all of the content….….make sure it’s consistent, and make sure that it supports the company’s brandAnother role: the community builderAnne Gentle talks about this in Conversation and CommunitySomeone who makes sure the new relationships and new workflows are working effectivelyFinally, the content strategistWhich we talked about earlier
  • “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” Jacques Barzun – Historian, French-born (1907); moved to the U.S. at the age of 12
  • “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of Technical Communication had better learn structured authoring.” -meWhy is structured authoring so important?
  • With all of that collaboration……Wouldn’t it be nice to have formats in which everyone could write contentAnd it would be easy to mash it up together as needed?Remember how we talked about mobile content – Content that has to be adaptive, responsive, and smart?Structured authoring is the key to making both of these happenAnn Rockley says – and I agree -- that good mobile content has to be structured contentApplying structure is the only way to ensure that each piece of content can beAdapted for the screen it’s displayed onTagged so that it can match the user’s characteristics (this is how we do “smart”)So you’d better learn structured authoringNot necessarily DITA, but some structured formatThe business case for structured authoring hinges onIt employs semantic elements — elements that give meaning to the content in them“Use this content now – in this context”It separates the task of formatting from the task of writingThrough reuse (write once, use many) you getPortability (use anywhere)Efficiency (write only once; update in only one place)Consistency (again, write/update in only one place)Structured authoring isn’t simply a new way to organize the same content you’ve always been writingYou have to embrace a new way of thinking about contentBut writers must be trained in both the why and the how of structured authoring
  • The technical communicator who’ll flourish in today’s environment knows:Structured authoring, as well as other current technologiesContent strategy – at least what it isBusiness savvyShe’s flexibleNow I have a second poll question:(You can choose multiple answers)What new skills are you most interested in developing?Structured authoring, to make my content more flexible and more adaptableOther new tools and techniques, besides structured authoringDomain knowledge in my field or industryIntegrating social media into customer-facing contentNo new skills: I just want to focus on honing the skills I already have
  • It’s a fast-changing world, as I’m sure you’ve noticedThe pace of change will continue Anticipate changes whenever you canBe nimble and flexible to react to changes when you can’tIt really helps to have some guiding principlesThey give you a template to use whenever you have to react to a changeHere are the two guiding principles that I like:Content has business valueContent should be managed strategicallyAnd one more:As a technical communicator…You are as well qualified as anyone to bring value to your contentAnd to thrive in today’s changing world
  • This is not an exhaustive listIt’s some good ones to get startedNote: Language of CS and CS 101 are more basicThe Bailie/Urbina book is advancedFor an intro to the whys and hows of DITA and structured authoring….You can’t do better than Jacquie Samuels’ series of articles on Techwhirl, which started in February
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  • This Is the Future We Talked about

    1. 1. This Is the Future We Talked about Larry Kunz April 16, 2014 #techcomm #future Today’s Tech Comm Trends and the New Workplace
    2. 2. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz What We’ll Cover Today • Welcome to the future • Trends in the Tech Comm profession • Today’s Tech Comm workplace • Today’s technical writer “The future is now” (source: ESPN)
    3. 3. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Welcome to the Future If this is the future, why does it look so much like the past?
    4. 4. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Today’s Tech Comm Trends • Content as a business asset • Technical writing as an emotional experience • Breaking down barriers (collaboration) • Going mobile • A new definition of quality
    5. 5. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Content as a Business Asset Content • Is more than just words and pictures • Needs rules for its creation and governance • Must be aligned to business goals
    6. 6. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz An Emotional Experience Your readers want to feel… • Confident: They can do the job • In the know: You’re confiding in them • That they’re part of a community Source: Randy Conley (
    7. 7. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Breaking Down Barriers Many people contribute content From within the organization: • Tech pubs • Marketing • Tech support From outside: • Blogs • Forums • Aftermarket books
    8. 8. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Going Mobile Fast, easy access to content – from everywhere • Adaptive content: compatible with the devices on which it’s read • Responsive content: changes format to fit the screen it’s displayed on • Smart content: based on your location and/or preferences By 2015 tablets will outsell laptops and desktops combined. – Gartner
    9. 9. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz A New Definition of Quality “Good, not perfect” • “Just in Time” development • Flexible, responsive • Short product cycles (sprints) • Frequent updates 57% of software tech writers work in agile. - WritersUA 2014 Tools & Skills survey
    10. 10. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Tomorrow’s Today’s Workplace • Knowing the value of what we do • Content strategy • Collaboration • Structured authoring
    11. 11. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz The Value of What We Do • Strategic, not tactical thinking • Making the business case • Either – Cost avoidance, or – Revenue enhancement
    12. 12. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz The Value of What We Do Examples: • Cost avoidance – Good docs result in fewer support calls • Revenue enhancement – Good docs help attract new customers Making your business case: Content Strategy 101 (O’Keefe & Pringle)
    13. 13. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Content Strategy …aligning content to business goals, analysis, and modeling - Rahel Bailie Recommendations about how to create, deliver, and govern web content - Kristina Halvorson
    14. 14. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Content Strategy Is your content: Tech Pubs Marketing and all that other stuff ?
    15. 15. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Content Strategy Is your content: Blown out of the water by other people’s content?
    16. 16. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Content Strategy Your content: • Truly functions as a business asset • Is managed in a strategic, coordinated way • Delivers a unified, trustworthy message
    17. 17. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Content Strategy
    18. 18. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Collaboration • Breaking down barriers • Content from many sources • Cultivating trust across the organization
    19. 19. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Collaboration New roles…New opportunities • Content curator • Community builder • Content strategist Source: Anne Gentle
    20. 20. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Structured Authoring Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball. Jacques Barzun
    21. 21. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Structured Authoring Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of Tech Comm had better learn structured authoring. Larry Kunz
    22. 22. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Structured Authoring • Not just a new way to organize the same old content • Employs semantic elements • Separates the task of formatting from the task of writing • Creates value through – Portability – Efficiency – Consistency
    23. 23. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Tomorrow’s Today’s Technical Writer • Trained in a variety of skills • Savvy about the ways of business • Flexible
    24. 24. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Your Guiding Principles • Content has business value • Content should be managed strategically And one to rule them all: • As a technical communicator, you’re as qualified as anyone!
    25. 25. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Bibliography • Conversation and Community Anne Gentle • The Language of Content Strategy Scott Abel & Rahel Bailie • Content Strategy 101 Sarah O'Keefe & Alan Pringle • Content Strategy Rahel Bailie & Noz Urbina • DITA 101 Ann Rockley, Steve Manning & Charles Cooper • DITA blog articles on Techwhirl [Feb-Apr 2014] Jacquie Samuels
    26. 26. April 16, 2014 @larry_kunz Stay in Touch! Larry Kunz Twitter: @larry_kunz