Remember playing Telephone as a kid, and how a simple phrase could change into something completely different? Corporate communication is little different and DITA depends on it.
No survey is complete without the airing of grievances. While DITA is predominantly lauded by respondents, there are certain difficulties that beleaguer teams even under the best circumstances.
We’ve found the survey reveals that one of the most difficult parts of successfully adopting DITA is rooted in communication issues. These challenges tend to manifest at the management level. Several management challenges are listed in the survey, but we’re going to focus on three challenges that often originate from poor interdepartmental communication: content strategy, training, and governance.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of DITA, these three aspects of business communication must work synergistically, which is just a fancy word for better together.
Your DITA Tool Is Not Magic
It may be news to some, but adopting a DITA tool isn’t going to magically clean up your content repository. Magical tidying is limited to the scouring charm, “scourgify,” in Harry Potter. Proper DITA implementation needs planning, training, and governance. All of this has to be accounted for prior to rolling out a DITA solution and throughout its implementation life cycle. Without planning, training, and governance, organization’s miss out on much of the power of DITA while individuals and team members revert to old practices and the communication shortcomings persist and manifest in the challenges we see in the survey.
There are plenty of reasons planning, training, and governance fall apart so easily, each marginally different per company, but one aspect of communication (or the lack thereof) shines through in each of them.
The “set it and forget it” mentality.
This passive mentality is easy to fall into and tricky to escape. The “set it and forget it” mentality will inevitably lead to clogged lines of communication.
Without consistently strategizing how you’ll use DITA, how you’ll teach your employees to use DITA, and how you’ll maintain control over company-wide DITA implementation, setting it and forgetting it will wreak havoc on DITA adoption.
Fortunately, we know how proactive communication is the catalyst that helps planning, training, and governance bind your DITA implementation together.
Content Strategy and Planning
Developing an effective content strategy was the most common challenge among survey respondents at 63%. Since DITA is a structured content solution, it’s pretty important to have a content strategy in place that the tool can actually help facilitate.
This is the first failure in communication and it reinforces the fact that a content tool isn’t a magical solution. Without a strategy in place, a DITA tool can’t be used as effectively. Lacking a content strategy, implementation is disorganized and it will cause more problems than it solves. This is why a clear direction from the get-go is essential.
Steve O’Sullivan, a Solutions Architect at Caliper Content Services gives some insight into this in the survey. Looking at respondents displeased with their DITA implementation, he reported finding a lot of them didn’t tap the expertise of DITA content experts for help:
“They thought they’d just figure it out along the way. Not a good idea. The systems required to implement DITA are often complicated solutions requiring a content engineering approach… There are often interdependencies between these platforms for which you need to plan…” (2020 DITA Satisfaction Report, p. 17)
Basically, powerful structure and content strategy do not lend themselves to “winging it” with DITA. How you integrate DITA into your organization will determine what you get out of DITA.
Among survey respondents, 48% reported not hiring a DITA expert to help with initial implementation. Piggybacking off the whole “winging it isn’t a good idea” theme, the survey went on to find that teams who did hire DITA experts reported fewer challenges and were more satisfied all around.
From content strategy to introducing DITA to all the departments who will be using it, proper training is crucial to successful implementation. Getting a new tool and handing it off to multiple departments to figure out on their own? Unwise.
One respondent reflected on this, mentioning that her financial services firm thought they could learn on the fly, but they couldn’t. She went on to note that if they’d hired an experienced DITA guide initially, they wouldn’t be in their current content predicament.
Internal training requires good communication. When a DITA solution is implemented across your organization, it calls for a unified training process. Of course, different departments will have different uses for the tool, but the goal of training should be to reinforce best practices that maximize DITA’s best features. Training should focus on these things:
- Structure: It’s a structured content tool, so training should teach staff members to transition away from traditional technical authoring and toward structured authoring.
- Establish New Norms: Implementing a DITA solution is going to be a change. Naturally, this change will call for new operational norms. The corporate ecosystem surrounding these changes will need to be reinforced and staff members deserve to be supported through this transition process.
- Learning Is Dynamic: Learning and training, especially with a tool like DITA, isn’t a one-and-done thing. Establishing new norms and changing how your company approaches content creation and organization is an ongoing learning process that you cannot neglect.
Where well-planned content strategy and effective training establish a solid foundation for DITA to thrive, governance is the essence of maintaining the solution’s consistency throughout your organization, now and into the future.
Strategy and learning processes are crucial for a successful DITA implementation, but you also need effective governance in place to ensure a sustainable future. Governance is simply making sure that a standard is being followed, keeping all departments in tune with the overarching company strategy, and monitoring changes in the tool itself.
Basically, good governance keeps DITA from derailing as time goes on and your business grows. Governance should be part of your organization’s strategy, reasoning, and goals for adopting DITA in the first place. It supports present DITA implementation while looking out for future DITA evolution; it’s seeing the now and paving the way for later.
Governance is the key to continued communication. It keeps the original content strategy in mind while continuing to educate employees as standards evolve with the company’s goals. It’s the central nervous system that maintains interdepartmental communication homeostasis regarding all things DITA within your organization.
These three aspects of communication cannot be separated from one another. In order for DITA implementation to be successful, there must be strategy, there must be proper, ongoing education, and there must be consistent governance over where it is now and where it’s headed in the future.
Want to see the full list of benefits and challenges associated with DITA? Access the full survey here!
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