Soap! 2017 Takeaways

ELEKS InfoDevs have been attending the soap! conference for the 4th year in a row. This time, the theme was Problem Solving, and the speakers shared their stories of all kinds of problems they face.

I would like to single out four areas that usually bring a headache and make us seek for a way out.

Problem 1. Nobody reads my docs!

You’ve probably heard that the attention span of an average user lasts for 12 seconds before the user loses interest. But that’s an old story. For the last 10 years, this figure has dropped to 8 seconds. This poses a new challenge for Information Developers: how to provide the information so that it surely reaches the users and actually helps them. In the Industry 4.0, bulky docs look like an offense to the modern users who don’t need to learn things from huge manuals. If they don’t know something, they will Google it.

Oded Ilan and Stefan Gentz know the solution: instead of making our users remember information, we should provide supportive training and onboarding, as well as shift from written documentation to rich content with marketing elements in it. Yeah, you read that right: marketing content is not the enemy from which the TechComm specialists should shy away but the means to grab the users’ attention and gravitate them towards using the product.

Which means that the content should be:

  • Meaningful and engaging—designed to train and entertain.
  • Portioned—provided in small digestible chunks.
  • Personalized and contextual—displayed to the user when they need it.
  • Available on demand.

Why rich content? In his talk, Anton Bollen enlisted the reasons why video documentation is beneficial:

  1. Shows workflows clearly and efficiently.
  2. Gives the user full control.
  3. Reaches a wider audience.
  4. Can be reused for training and onboarding.

Sounds cool, especially at the time of blooming AR and VR, where traditional documentation approaches just won’t fit. Beside that, rich content or not, its quality must be constantly evaluated. How? We should collect metrics and gather user feedback.

Talks:

  • Dirk Göhmann & Cate Mackenzie. User documentation vs loser documentation: Great content, no readers?
  • Oded Ilan. Overcoming the Forgetting Curve: New Content Creation Paradigms.
  • Stefan Gentz. The Convergence of Marketing and Technical Communication.
  • Anton Bollen. Need more problems? Start localizing videos!

Problem 2. I have too many/too old-school/too ugly docs

As the conference theme suggests, the central place of discussion was reserved for practical problems the documentarians face and solve. One of the main issues was optimizing huge data sets and keeping bulky content usable and findable. This could be solved by migrating huge documentation sets from one platform to another, redesigning the deliverables to better suit the users’ needs, and even creating a working prototype to further polish the documentation. Still, seems like structured authoring remains the most seamless way of content creation, and luckily, DITA solves more problems than it creates.

What made me happy about this year’s soap! is that there’s a huge shift in the perception of content; now, documentarians are not solely responsible for the content, and Information Developers are not the only documentarians. Developers, Product Owners, Marketing Specialists, Project Managers, Customer Success Managers, UX Designers—all these roles are related to content creation, support, or distribution. What’s even cooler is that the TechComm community has become less reclusive and is now exploring the ways to use the expertise of other team players for improving documentation.

Talks:

  • Patrick Bosek. Problems you can solve and create with DITA.
  • Barbara Szwarc & Justyna Adamczyk & Mateusz Wiktor. What the tag? From Wiki to DITA CMS in less than 80 days.
  • Dagmara Szostak. “Done! Oh, wait… we need translation.” Facilitating content translation process.
  • Meike Chabowski. Always open – Open source documentation with open tools.
  • Łukasz Górnicki. Documenting microservices.
  • Anton Bollen. Need more problems? Start localizing videos!
  • Adam Sanyo. Reducing waste in a project with conflicting needs. The story of the 33 miners.
  • Szymon Serwatka & Gosia Pytel. Quality technical training – Making things happen.
  • Marta Bartnicka. How to turn local success into global failure.
  • Paddy McShane. Customer success and UX – The ultimate tag team.
  • Joanna Malicka & Tomasz Poznanski. Rethinking your content. Happifying through improved usability.

Problem 3. How can I make my work (and life) easier?

We all face many challenges in our daily work: lack of information, stubborn SMEs, tight deadlines, constant UI changes, no rapport with the team—you name it. Of course, there’s no single magic pill that could take away the worry, but we have three of them: embracing our multifacetedness, improving collaboration, and harnessing productivity.

Being an Information Developer always means more that just writing. Jarek Orłowski argued that we wear many hats being technical writers, copywriters, editors, instructional designers, UI writers, translators, and so on. Maryland Sara suggests adding one more hat: being a Scrum Master. Turns out, it kills several birds with one stone: expands your skill set, provides you a better understanding of the product, increases your visibility, and improves the quality of your content.

But even if you’re not a Scrum Master, effective collaboration is vital. Brad Schmidt shared several cool tips on how to enhance communication within distributed teams. Have you ever thought about the quality of audio during the calls? Have you tried to reach out to a person on the other side of the screen with something more than a work-related question? Turns out, you should, because small technicalities like adjusting your mike or muting when someone else is speaking can make a huge difference in how colleagues perceive you.

Last but not least, having several roles, establishing quality communication, and processing tons of information is surely beneficial, but does not necessarily make you more productive. It’s when you stop multitasking and start managing your task backlog. Sounds challenging, eh? It’s great we have the technology to cater for that. There are apps that block your favorite but nonetheless time-eating social networks from distracting you. Wonder how long will you survive without checking your Twitter? Try StayFocusd.

Talks:

  • Jarek Orłowski. The yin-yang of technical writing. Solve your problems to the user’s advantage.
  • Maryland Sara. More than just a technical writer.
  • Natalia Katryńska. Finding your way back from Documentation Mordor.
  • Piotr Nabielec. What 1000 participants taught me about productivity.
  • Brad Schmidt. Remote Collaboration for Introverted Geeks and Misanthropes.

Problem 4. How can I be a content leader?

Content leadership was another crucial topic at this year’s soap! If you are a Documentation Manager, you have to develop a documentation strategy. As Tomek Prus said,

documentation strategy = team strategy + content strategy

Drawing up your documentation strategy is no easy feat; however, restrain from copy-pasting the existing solutions and reinventing the wheel—take what works well and find your place within your company.

Kristina Mausser added that Doc Managers and their teams should work on building a better content culture within their companies and embrace the roles of content leaders. Content culture means that all corporate policies, guidelines, and procedures are actually read and understood by the company employees.

For example, in many companies, employees do not always understand their responsibilities. This means that all corporate instructions are just shelfware. That’s when the content leader has to step in and take up the responsibility to provide the content that actually helps solve problems and not merely fix current issues.

Talks:

  • Tomek Prus. No documentation strategy? Build one from scratch!
  • Alan Miller. Our content sucks, right..!?!?
  • Kristina Mausser. Keynote: Inspiring action through content leadership.

As for the soap! 2018 theme, one of the possible variants is Artificial Intelligence and Content. Now, we have a whole year to dive into a world of chatbots, deep learning, and augmented user assistance.

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