This weekend, I finally had a chance to listen to the Content Strategy for Technical Communication webinar, previously recorded by Scriptorium Publishing Services.
Sarah O’Keefe, well-regarded thought leader and consultant in the technical communication community, provides a road map for technical communicators to apply the emerging methodology known as content strategy to the requirements and deliverables that are more specific to the technical communication discipline.
Content Strategy for Technical Communication
In her introduction, O’Keefe observes that most current definitions of content strategy focus mainly on web content. Throughout her presentation, O’Keefe applies the overarching principles of content strategy directly to the information products that technical communicators traditionally deliver, including localized content, print, embedded help, context-sensitive help, and code comments.
O’Keefe further notes that content strategy for technical communicators must account for many complex challenges, including multiple outputs, regulated content, coordination with product development/product management, and conditionality/versioning issues for content that is applicable to multiple products and audiences.
O’Keefe defines content strategy for technical communication, in this way:
…a plan for developing, delivering, deploying, and destroying your information.
The rest of O”Keefe’s presentation provides an over-arching methodology for content strategy, including identifying gaps in the workflow, considering the business drivers (time, quality, and money), and proposing new content requirements for the amended workflow.
Content Strategy Tactics
After discussing the methodology, O’Keefe describes the various tactics (for example, Technical Communication, Community, Localization, Training, and Traceability/FDA Validation) that would need to be part of the overall content strategy.
The 4Ds for Technical Communicators
O’Keefe then goes on to provide a roadmap for the specific activities (the 4 Ds–developing, delivering, deploying, and destroying information), which she recommends would occur as part of content strategy, within the technical communication piece of the overall plan.
My Reaction: Content Strategy & Product Management
O’Keefe’s slides are an important resource not just for technical communicators, but for all communicators who are trying to sync up content delivery, in the best interest of our customers. I agree with Sarah, when says that content strategy is more than a buzzword and goes above and beyond traditional project management or information architecture. Content strategy is a coordinated plan between the disciplines, which shows where an organization intends to put its content development efforts.
Personally, I would forsee those responsible for each of the tactics Sarah mentioned (including Technical Communication, Community, Localization, Training, and Traceability/FDA Validation) each being held accountable for taking a first pass at the content strategy for that respective tactic. (The organizational units and groups responsible for developing content, who are not mentioned in this list of tactics, would supply this kind of plan as well.)
Ultimately, someone in a centralized position of authority, with executive buy-in, would coordinate the respective plans, eliminate redundancies between the various tactics (or interests), and gain cross-functional buy-in to maintain optimal content delivery. Importantly, these decisions would involve customer analysis and input.
As content and the product have finally become inseparable, I can’t help but think the best centralization of decision-making about content would naturally be within Product Management (as opposed to Marketing, Development/QA, Customer Support, or IT).
A complete content strategy framework requires a holistic understanding of all the disciplines’ respective objectives for content delivery. Typically, this holistic function resides in Product Management and is enforced via Project Management.
Today, I don’t know many members from Product Management or the various content disciplines (including my own) who are specialized enough in the multi-dimensional objectives required of the emerging content strategist, or who have the bandwidth or inclination to take on the content strategist’s complete function. However, technical communicators (and please forgive my bias) are the experienced publishers who are currently working on most cross-functional teams, and are already supporting more than one corporate objective, via their existing content delivery responsibilities.
If technical communicators step up and provide the kind of analysis Sarah proposes (starting with our own content deliverables), we are already positioned to start filling the void in content leadership and to model best practices for content reuse and collaborative writing to the other disciplines. Organizations might also consider moving the technical communication group, to wherever it is in the company that is responsible for this emerging centralized role, and in need of the holistic vision, publishing experience, and coordination skills which technical communicators already bring to the table.
Your take? Where does the coordination of content strategy best belong in the organization? Who has the skills? How can technical communicators incorporate content strategy, in their existing roles? Who should we report to?