Get (IT) Together


I am a big fan of collaboration. Teamwork, actually. It’s a common sense approach to solving many business efficiency challenges. And yet, despite the obvious benefits, it’s not standard procedure. Most organizations simply have no idea what is possible when they improve the way their workers work.

Take content production, for instance. The traditional process used to create, manage, and deliver all the stuff that powers business is a poorly orchestrated mess, riddled with inefficiencies, many of which can be drastically reduced—or totally eliminated—when workers work toward a common goal and collaborate together as a team using the right tools for the job.

To illuminate the areas in need of improvement, let’s take a look at the traditional process of creating customer support content for a software product: Writers are assigned to create a set of product documentation. They work with subject matter experts (software developers, business analysts, and others) to gather the information they need. They often work in isolation; sometimes in parallel with the development of the product. If they’re lucky, they have a working version of the product to explore, but more than likely, all they have are a set of business requirements documents and some product specifications from which to start.

These processes were designed to support the creation and delivery of printed documents and introduce a variety of unnecessary (and expensive) progress-slowing tasks, especially in the age of digital content, wireless communication, and the web. The biggest time waster of all is the review process, a complicated series of hoops through which authors and editors must jump, attempting to decipher confusing, irrelevant, and often conflicting suggestions from subject-matter experts for improving the content being created.

The traditional review process, which is in place in many departments of nearly all organizations today, is particularly inefficient because it relies heavily on email, the wrong tool for the job if your goal is efficiency. Emails are misaddressed, lost in a sea of competing messages, and sometimes aren’t delivered at all thanks to overprotective or improperly tuned spam filters. Sometimes the sender attaches the wrong document; sometimes the receiver reviews the wrong version. Documents are misplaced, overlooked, misfiled, confused with conflicting versions, and, well, you get the picture. In short, time is wasted and complications are introduced, all because the process and its tools are not optimized for maximum collaboration and teamwork.

While email introduces a host of delivery-related obstacles to the review process, customer support content is often created using software that introduces additional time-wasting hurdles. Word processing tools, which were originally designed for creating printed documents, slow things down with features that were designed to be useful but actually decrease productivity.

Two of the biggest productivity-draining features in Word are comments and track changes. When multiple reviewers are involved, whose comments are more important? Which ones should be ignored? Which ones should be incorporated? How are conflicting comments handled? What about irrelevant comments?

When you move to a collaborative authoring environment in which teamwork and maximum productivity is the goal of the process, these obstacles disappear. By optimizing the content production process and selecting the right tools for the job, organizations can reduce (even eliminate) productivity bottlenecks associated with outdated content production processes.

When you introduce collaborative authoring and processes based on teamwork to the equation, inefficiency and errors are drastically reduced and products can get to market faster. By authoring content in an online collaborative authoring environment such as Google Docs, MindTouch, or Microsoft 2010, which supports what the company calls “co-authoring,” organizations can bypass the time-draining email-review process.

Meetings can be scheduled in which all parties involved can hold a conversation via conference call, video conference, even telephone Skype while reviewing the documents together online. Decisions about the content can be made immediately, and changes can be incorporated into the document while the meeting is in progress. Reviewers and subject-matter experts can make changes to the content online, where they can see the suggestions made by others. Issues of consistency and contradictory information can be easily spotted and dealt with.

In the ultracompetitive global marketplace, organizations can no longer afford to waste time on old school content creation, review, and approval processes. It’s time for some smart thinking and common sense. Collaborative authoring and teamwork are no longer options; they are a necessity.