Being part of the global transformation
The work environment is changing ever more rapidly; companies are reacting and increasing the tempo. Technical documentation must not be left behind.
Globalization is more than just a buzzword; it leads to increasingly greater change in work and business processes. The development is irreversible and is progressing regardless. It is critical for those responsible for technical communication to take a hand in designing the processes. The following sections show examples of the challenges that technical communication must face.
Development locations distributed over several countries or even continents the creation process for technical documentation must be adapted. Developers are important information providers in this process. Language barriers must be overcome, a functioning knowledge transfer between the locations is required. New forms of collaboration across locations arise, where the obstacle of time difference should not be underestimated. Distributed locations will eventually also develop for technical documentation, which must be networked with each other.
Region-specific products require localized technical communication very often, product features - these can be technical data and dimensions, but also special functions - are adapted for local conditions. It is not enough to simply translate technical documentation, presentations and other media. A localization process taking into consideration regional input is essential and must be carried out together with the colleagues from the respective region.
Differentiated market launches the products are launched in the market in different regions at different times and eventually even with other key aspects. For instance, specific industry or application specifications can play a role here for the region. For technical communication a market launch is much more than just preparing sales documents and technical documentation accompanying a product. Ideally, the activities for a market launch begin very early in parallel with the development process. The task of technical documentation here is collecting, preparing and providing a variety of product information required by the worldwide sales organizations to prepare and carry out the market launch activities. A part of the task is also developing, creating and preparing more instruments of communication. In ideal cases these aids are already available before the date of the market launch.
Differentiated product lifecycle management the products are handled differently regionally during their lifecycle. This means, the instruments of technical communication are developed further during the product lifecycle.
What is expected from technical documentation?
The department responsible for technical communication is the technical documentation department of a company. Now the models from past experiences show that the documentation department must be able to do more than create technical documentation in the future.
Technical documentation can effectively support the market launch and the product lifecycle management with the tools of technical communication. A technical communication system can include the following elements:
- Classical technical documentation
- Application descriptions
- Presentation kits
- Training documents
- Starter packets for market launch
- Competitor comparisons
- Conversion tools
- Information portal
- Print and online catalogues
- Product descriptions on the internet
High demands will be made on employees of technical documentation in future; technical writers will become information managers.
In addition to information logistics prepared by technical writers, they will also be expected to take over tasks in knowledge management. A functioning knowledge management is mandatory for the successful internationalization of business processes and technical writers can contribute greatly to it.
How do the skills change?
In addition to methodical and functional requirements, intercultural skills are also expected. Those responsible for technical communication must consider these circumstances and adapt the competence model for technical writing. The competence model must be applied consistently, when new employees are appointed, as well as during the further development of existing personnel. Motivated and competent employees are a key factor for success. The list explains what a competence model for technical writers can look like:
- Personal impression
- Self reflection
- Communication skills, even intercultural
- Organization skills
- Analytical skills
- Functional knowledge
- Language skills
- IT knowledge
Information must be collected, organized and used to apply the competence model in the best possible manner. Help in that direction:
Collect competence information
- Consider the company context
- Connect competence with the targets
- Get information from the next management level
- Apply methods of work analysis
- Consider future work requirements
Organize competence information
- Compile and describe components of the competence model
- Define the attributes of competence (beginner, adept, expert)
- When required, describe basic competences and job-specific competences (writer, illustrators, translators)
- Use existing competence catalogues and avoid reinventing the wheel
- Create comprehensive and clear skill profiles, but dont be too extensive, about half a page DIN A4 per competence; 12 to 15 competences per position
- Use tables, figures or diagrams
Use competence information
- Use methods from organization development (planning, data collection, model development, implementation)
- Use competence models for personnel work, e.g. for personnel development and recruiting
- Use information technology, provide competence models in personnel systems to allow better evaluation of applicants
- Review and adjust competence models periodically or when required
- Clear legal concerns (Capture attributes objectively and precisely)
Recruitment: Capability is important, not knowledge
- FrameMaker skills? Perhaps you will next work with XMetal?
- Better: The capability of processing information in a structured manner
Another task is process development, i.e. the further development of the documentation process with respect to internationalization of the business processes and the redevelopment of processes to fulfil new tasks from knowledge management. Probably, the changes in the process landscape will also require adapting the organization structure. It is certain that international networks must be developed for knowledge transfer to function.
How should documentation position itself?
The changes described till now affect the process landscape, the organization structure and the competence model for the concerned employees. It is not rare to find resistance to the implementation in practice or a selective view leading to a dissatisfactory result. In the comprehensive picture, technical communication must be seen as part of the company-wide strategic development. The people responsible for technical communication must know the vision, the corporate mission and the company strategy to enable developing strategies for technical communication.
Globalization is one of the factors that impacts technical communication. There are others that are also not to be underestimated. But measures exist for them as well.
- Additional tasks without additional resources, increase efficiency
- Fewer resources, review service portfolio
- Prioritize tasks, call for more discipline
- Process and method optimization, avoid wastage
- Review organization structure
- Review insourcing/outsourcing strategy
- Improve information management, reduce time-to-market
- Technical communication as a differentiation factor, search for solutions together with Sales
- Development for solution and system providers
- Solution competence and application/industry knowledge are called for.
- Create contents with more focus on the target groups and media
- Realize more online offers in technical communication
- More interaction required
- Higher quality standard for software tools
- Functioning knowledge culture for successful knowledge management
- New forms of collaboration
Legal and standard specifications (examples)
- Specifications for energy efficiency: Impact on the product strategy
- New machine guidelines: greater significance of technical documentation
Chances and risks of new technologies
- Differentiation vis a vis competition, unique selling proposition
- Complex products greater demands on technical communication
- Increased risk of shortcomings in instructions
- Qualification of employees in technical communication
- Information logistics and knowledge transfer must function
- Establish technical communication as internal knowledge multiplier
Internal influences must be considered in addition to these external influences. The most important aspects are:
Vision and Corporate mission
- Generation change of the owners or general change in ownership leads to changes
- Paradigm changes have a strong impact on company strategy
- Change in company strategy due to external influences
- Reorientation towards new markets, target groups, products
- Company has grown strongly and now has group structures, e.g. division into business areas
- Communication changes, informal paths dont function anymore
Balance of power in company
- Informal opinion leaders leave the company
- Change in leadership positions
- Reorganization projects lead to changes
- New tasks demand structural changes
What must those responsible do?
Companies that recognize these changes and drive strategic development are at an advantage. Those responsible for technical communication can lay the groundwork for the future here by ensuring a high value in the company and present the advantages to management. Their task is to participate actively in the strategic development of the company with this topic. A certain amount of visionary thinking is necessary for this, but mainly conceptual strength and assertiveness.