Every month the Europe SIG holds a web chat for members and this month we discussed the issues involved in implementing global documentation standards. We had no shortage of issues to discuss!
We all agreed that having shared and consistent documentation standards and procedures for all writers in a company are necessary goals but trying to achieve and maintain such a harmonised state was often an uphill and ever changing struggle. The ground often keeps moving.
Earthquakes that fracture global documentation standards
When reading the numerous articles and blogs about the tools available to facilitate standardising documentation content and processes – and the cost of some recommendations can run into many thousands of dollars/euros long term – I often find myself wondering, “What a stable environment these guys must work in. They apparently don’t get hit by earthquakes.”
The earthquake in question is mergers and acquisitions (M&As). All of us taking part in the discussion had experience the impact of M&As, sometimes several times, and the detrimental effect they can have on us developing and maintaining effective documentation standards across the company.
The impact often creates virtual writing teams dispersed over a wide geographic area, even several countries, and who’ve probably never worked together before. Unfortunately companies often make little effort to merge the cultures of the different virtual teams. With many travel budgets frozen these days, the virtual team members may never get to meet face to face so it can be difficult to forge strong relationships. Trust and mutual understanding can take a hit.
In the worst case, the technical publications department may even disappear following an M&A with writers now reporting locally to, say, different Engineering groups. Have upper management considered the impact on documentation standards and cost in such situations?
Outsourcing writing and R&D can also complicate the goal of achieving harmonised standards across a company.
As the STC annual conference approaches, I can’t help but notice that the impact of M&As on our work is rarely discussed even though many of us have probably been impacted by such earthquakes.
Controlling the standards
One M&A issue we discussed was how the role of the editor can change as teams become more virtual and culturally dissimilar. Even if all the writers in a global company supposedly use the same style guide, templates and processes, there’s no guarantee that everyone will correctly use them. It’s too easy to ignore style guides. Scattered teams mean that it’s harder to enforce standards. It becomes easier to ignore the editor’s recommendations, particularly if there’s no feeling of being part of the same team. The editors can find themselves swamped with work, which then delays the release of the documentation. Management in an attempt to remove the process bottleneck or to reduce costs may simply cut the editorial stage. Editors are an increasingly rare bird these days.
The politics of change
The restructuring and musical chairs that often follows an M&A can mean that the person put in charge of the newly created or restructured documentation department may not be the person with the most experience in technical communications or in working in a global business environment encompassing many countries and languages. The choice of a leader can be “political”, which could impede the success of implementing global standards. The style guide itself can also pose “political” issues that may determine whether or not the different virtual teams use it correctly.
Need to develop business awareness
Those tools that could help us do our work more efficiently need budgets. The impact of M&As on documentation forces us to become better at understanding the business decisions made by upper management. Our discussion brought up the issue that there’s often a lack of understanding by documentation managers on how global business operates and how cultural differences impact our work. Not all regional markets within a company may do business the same way, for example, so the documentation needs can vary around the world.
Our one hour discussion didn’t solve the problem on how to make it easier to harmonise documentation written globally. But we got to share our stories and compare notes and to realise that we’re not alone in our harmonisation problems.
How have M&As impacted your implementation of global documentation standards?