“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Why this old adage works for your refrigerator, but not your content strategy.
It’s great that DITA is working out for you, but what separates progress from the status quo is the ability to map a growth trajectory that utilizes everything a DITA solution has to offer.
Looking at the DITA Satisfaction Survey, we know that the responses are centralized within technical documentation and information architecture teams. That’s great because DITA was born, raised, and nurtured in those spaces, but it’s grown enough as a standard that its use cases stretch well beyond the realm of technical documentation.
Our CEO echoes these sentiments in the survey:
“Content structure and information organization aren’t — and shouldn’t be — limited to technical writing. DITA might’ve started there, but it’s time we looked beyond technical publications and realized DITA’s usefulness wherever content organization and structure are needed.” (2020 DITA Satisfaction Report, p. 25)
Organization and structure are building blocks of any successful department, so where and how can your business take it outside of techcomm?
DITA Isn’t Just a Standard, It’s a Mindset
While DITA is an amazing open standard with powerful capabilities, it also presents a more abstract function that centers around rethinking content. Merely thinking of content development in a way that’s DITA conducive challenges how most people think of creating content in the first place.
Aside from techcomm departments who’ve been immersed in DITA XML or similarly structured standards, content creation has largely been thought of as a linear process. DITA content moves away from linear and into component content creation. We’ve spoken ad nauseum about the structure of DITA successfully building topic-based content such that each individual content component can exist by itself. Thus, when there are hundreds or thousands of components able to exist on their own, they can be rearranged, reused, and cross-functionally adapted with relative ease.
DITA XML is a tool that makes this possible, but what we need to recognize before implementing the standard across an enterprise is that we must think of content creation differently. Component content creation is inherently different than linear content creation, the process and strategies must be adjusted to reflect those changes. A hammer and a nail gun produce the same results, but the way we think of, use, and approach each tool is much different.
Component content and linear content are both content, but the approaches we take to create them are different. Once we view content creation in a way that a DITA tool can positively reinforce, the tool itself becomes ultimately more useful.
Tech Doc Teams Lead By Example
Because DITA is commonplace among many technical documentation teams, they’re in a unique position to take lead as quality content advocates. It’s no secret that to other less technically inclined departments, XML is an intimidating part of the unknown that many would just as soon never get to know.
Those other departments, though intimidated, are still watching. The survey reported that once other departments saw technical documentation teams successfully adopt DITA, 56% of them said they were interested in doing the same. Interest came from departments in Training and eLearning, Marketing and Sales, Research and Development, and Product Development.
When other departments are envious of a methodology technical documentation teams have used for nearly 20 years, it indicates that there’s a gap in the existing tools available for those teams. Why reinvent the wheel? DITA is a perfect, well-established standard that can fill the structured content gaps departments outside of technical documentation have been living with for so long.
That’s a bunch of spaces to take DITA implementation to new heights in your company. These departments will continue to be apprehensive without proper planning, learning, and application. Where technical documentation teams have a distinct advantage is in polishing their own DITA implementation practices so they can be used as practical examples of DITA done right. We already talked about proving DITA’s worth to stakeholders, but here you want to be able to show off to your cross-departmental peers. Basically, you want to make other departments jealous of how well DITA works for you. Then help them follow suit.
Now the Tricky Part, Actual DITA Implementation
The good news: You don’t outgrow a good implementation.
The bad news: A good implementation takes more work than a one-hour training session and magical department-wide adoption. You’re not off the hook yet.
An effective cross-company DITA implementation has a few crucial points that need to be fully realized.
Not by your technical documentation team. Knowing DITA and being adept at teaching it to others are drastically different. In the survey, several people responded regretting not having hired a DITA expert to train them and, remember, all of these respondents work in techcomm.
If technical communicators and information architects benefit from expert training, so will other departments. Education establishes the DITA baseline from which everything begins.
Will an HR Department and Product Development team use DITA the same way? They may use some of the same capabilities, but each department that adopts a DITA solution will utilize the tool’s capabilities in different ways.
Differentiating the training and implementation processes across a business is vital to properly deploying a DITA solution. Established DITA conventions and structure are built into the standard, but it’s up to your business to take and apply them to the varying needs of your company’s departments.
Nothing good stays that way without proper maintenance. This is especially important with content spread across multiple departments in a company. The practice of maintaining the integrity of your content and processes is known as governance. Governance enforces a system that ensures consistency in DITA implementation such that it’s sustainable as the company grows and the standard continues to be more widely adopted.
Live Outside Your Comfort Zone
When adopting a complex standard like DITA, there will always be growing pains. What these growing pains look like will vary drastically from company to company and from department to department within those companies.
It might be difficult at first, but you just need to remember our three key points.
- A good DITA implementation is tricky, but well worth the initial and ongoing effort.
- Your DITA implementation should serve as a model for how the rest of your company can follow.
- Take charge of your DITA implementation and maintain it with the future in mind.
With the DITA standard and the right toolset, you prioritize a scalable, powerful, and universally useful way to write, manage, and publish content. Why keep these capabilities to yourself? By expanding the implementation of DITA, you compound the value and elevate your department’s profile within your organization. With DITA, you become future-focused leaders and we’re here to help make that future brighter.
If you’d like to learn more about expanding DITA throughout your organization, let us know. We’re excited to help you succeed!
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