A Technical Communication Conversation — Larry Kunz

This is part of the series of conversations that I originally published in ContentHug, in 2015.

Thank you Larry Kunz.

[CH]: Technical communication has really evolved from merely user manuals to ROI driven approach, UG content, and web based authoring tools. I must say these are all integration points with content strategy, towards the common goal. Considering this convergence, what exactly ‘content’ community needs to address? For example if we talk about titles, what can be the next title of a senior technical writer or a documentation manager that can explain it? If not for title, what next in terms of content ownership or value to a business?

[LK]: Senior technical writers will be able to choose from a lot of job titles — each one reflecting a different set of duties and skills, each one contributing to the business in a different way. Obviously, content strategist would be one such job title. But there’s also information architect, content curator…. Perhaps even Chief Content Officer.

[CH]: Assume that you get your dream job or contract, lead or otherwise. What is the most important thing that you have learnt so far that you will put into practice there?

[LK]: I’ve learned that value is paramount: value to the business, and value to the people who consume the content. Everything I do, I will need to justify in terms of ROI and in terms of customer satisfaction.

[CH]: There are times when we need to push things around, such as to get a buy in. Can you share some experience when you had to take a really tough call, such as for style guide, for user education, for a new authoring environment, or for deliverables?

[LK]: I often recommend new and improved processes to the clients I work with. Sometimes, however, the client is so used to doing things in a particular way, or feels so tightly constrained by regulations, that they simply can’t envision themselves making a change.

I’ve learned to accept that half a loaf is better than none; that (for example) while they might be OK moving to structured authoring, they have to use the same old process for reviews and approval. In one case, for example, I still post Word documents on SharePoint so that the SMEs can mark their comments using Track Changes. Because that’s the only way they’re comfortable doing it.

[CH]: How do organizations address the content ownership concerns when we have content strategists, content marketers, technical communicators, and even data scientists? How do you see your role in defining the content ownership process?

[LK]: Governance is an essential part of any content strategy. The strategy has to define who owns the process, and who is responsible for carrying out the various tasks. We have to clearly define roles, responsibilities, and (especially) authority.

[CH]: What role technical communicators can have in disruption–technology or otherwise?

We can accelerate acceptance of the new technology by being the ones who explain it to other technologists (such as people who write apps for a new mobile device) and to consumers. We’re uniquely positioned to understand each audience in terms of the questions they need to have answered, in terms of the problems they hope to solve, and in terms of their frame of reference. (The last is an especially vital consideration when explaining a new technology.)

[CH]: Can you name any companies or brands whom you admire for their content?

[LK]: Vinish, I’m glad you told me to get some coffee just now, because I’m having to mull your question over. It’s hard to answer because when a company is doing content really well, you often don’t notice.

In terms of user documentation, I think that Microsoft has come a long way in recent years, by making their content more user-centric; by developing a really good, comprehensive style guide; and by enforcing that style guide.

In terms of marketing, a few companies are generating interesting content and then disseminating it through webinars and conference presentations. Madcap does some good stuff, for example, and so does Just Systems (that’s the company that markets XMetaL — although I don’t think I’ve heard much from them recently). I’m sure I’ve left out others who are just as deserving as mention. I guess I need more coffee.

[CH]: If you could weave a magic wand only once, what you wish for your current role at work?

[LK]: I wish it were easier to sell executives and clients on the value proposition of what we do, and on the potential value that can result from adopting new processes and new technologies for content.

Vinish Garg | Products. Experience. Stories. I am a EEES (External Eye Experience Specialist) for startups and their goals, for content, UX, and customer experience.