LavaCon 2012 Session Summary:-Project Metrics & Development Team Management Track
Presenter, Alan J. Porter, 4Js Group
Alan J. Porter is debonair and funny. His interests are diverse, and include writing comics and pop culture books. He has decades of experience doing content development in challenging environments, such as that of aircraft manufacturers. After hearing his talk last year at LavaCon 2011, I knew I had to hear him again.
At LavaCon 2012, his talk, “Five Ways to Make Executives Love Content Development”, provided a set of tools for promoting the value and importance of various forms of content development, including technical communication and technical illustration.
Technical communicators must understand what the actual purpose of their company is, which is not the same knowing as what the company produces or does. A company might make drill bits for mining equipment, for example, but its real purpose is to help miners mine minerals effectively. With this understanding, technical communicators can better focus their messages, and also understand the importance of content development to the company’s real purpose.
Alan J. Porter has a wealth of real-life examples that illustrate his points. He compared two luxury car manufacturers, both of whom were his clients. At Company#1, content development employees were relegated to toiling in a coalshed, while the rest of the company enjoyed palatial office splendor. They had a single old computer, and the manager apologetically said something like, “We *just* produce the manuals that go in the glovebox.” At Company #2, content development employees had lovely modern offices in the main building with excellent equipment, and were also given keys to a fleet of luxury cars, provided they wrote up usability reports for them. As is often the case, I am not sure what is cause and what is effect in regards to these differing levels of respect, but Alan’s advice to never say that you are “just a writer” is important to remember.
Alan also warned against telling an executive that you will save money with a given strategy, as that approach will likely to lead to budget reductions and layoffs. Instead, you should focus on how your proposal will increase revenue and profits. You should think of ways to sell your department’s services, either within or outside the company. Some options include requiring the customer pay for documentation after a specifically contracted period (this was 10 years in Alan’s aircraft example), charging a small price such as $0.99 for a help topic, or simply selling complete sets of documentation for a fixed price. Your department should be seen to produce revenue, rather than consume it.
As a master of corporate politics, Alan provided useful suggestions in that regard. For example, find out how your manager is being evaluated–his or her KPIs (key performance indicators). Figure out how you can help your manager meet his or her KPIs, and do not resent it when your manager ends up taking the credit for your great ideas.
Technical documentation departments can often develop a hopeless attitude, much like the content development group that was housed in a coalshed. Alan has strategies to technical communications team get the respect and funding that it deserves. If you are focused on improving the company’s revenues and profits with your team, then executives are more likely to provide you the funding and respect you deserve.
Slideshare of talk (also given in Austin in September 2012): http://www.slideshare.net/4JsGroup/five-steps-to-help-executives-love-content-development
Alan J. Porter business site: http://4jsgroup.com/
Alan J. Porter writer site: http://alanjporter.com/
Alan J. Porter business blog site: http://4jsgroup.blogspot.com/
Twitter: @4jsgroup and @alanjporter