Process Optimization in Technical communication

Technical communication has much in common with development projects and, at the same time, is an integral part of these projects. All project team members capture and exchange information before, during, and after a project. The task of content managers, documentation managers, information developers, knowledge managers, localization experts, translators, usability experts, and other technical communicators is to harness information about the product, the project, and the work processes applied – either for productive use or for use in future projects, like a blue print.

optimizing processes is about innovating not just automating

There is no single blue print available for efficient technical communication. Different documentation types targeted at different users for distribution through different media channels require different, and above all, innovative approaches. However, a division of information development into the following phases is a widely acknowledged practice:

good documentation requires defined project phases
  • planning and design
  • approval
  • (information) development
  • review
  • testing
  • correction
  • release
documentation is not an additional product feature; it evolves with the product

Organizational activities must be performed and guidelines must be followed throughout a project and in sync with the product life cycle. Technical communicators are concerned with the internal interfaces between product management, quality management, development, training and marketing, and, if applicable, translation and localization. At the same, they are positioned at the interface between the product and its intended purpose: for use by customers. For this reason, technical communication plays a crucial role in business strategies.

optimizing processes is about innovating not just automating

The first step toward streamlining processes in technical communication is by making information available in the spirit of knowledge transfer. Many projects are extremely complex with a large number of persons involved and a vast amount of information in circulation. A good starting point is to define the essentials by collecting and organizing the following internal and external information:

Internal and External Project Information
What?project descriptionproduct description (first or new release)
Who?project team members
existing customers
potential customers
Where?project location or locations
on site or remote
information store
customer location or locations
industry or sector
How?development environment
authoring tools
types of documentation
product environment
documentation delivery method
When?development deadlines*
documentation deadlines*
translation deadlines*
release deadline
it is inevitable that the software development environment and authoring tools used will influence work processes

The use of software tools should not necessarily control organizational activities; however, both the development environment and the documentation environment influence work processes and can impose restrictions to a lesser or greater extent. A work environment does not have to be restrictive, but will always be subject to specific best practices and defined guidelines if work processes are to be optimized.

efficient and effective technical communication requires the harmonization of many processes

Technical communication is commonly divided into the following processes, each of which is a discipline and a profession in its own right:

  • content management (AKA documentation management)
  • information development (AKA technical writing)
  • knowledge management
  • project management
  • quality management
  • terminology management
  • translation and localization
  • usability analysis

These are just some of the processes that fall under the term technical communication; processes that have been borne out of the necessity to keep information under control and available on demand as clear, functional, meaningful content. After all, the ultimate goal of technical communication is to ensure that you control your content, not your content controls you.

About Helen Fawcett:

In a nutshell, I optimize user interface text such as control labels and create on-screen instructions and help documentation for developers & customers. | Helen works as a user assistance lead at SAP SE.
More about me
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