Sure, you know DITA is great, but great isn’t good enough. You have to prove it, and your audience might not see what you see.
In the 2020 DITA Satisfaction Survey Report, most respondents have adopted DITA (94%) and are happy about it (77%). These positive responses came from techcomm professionals: technical writers, technical documentation managers, and information architects.
This result is not surprising, but it reveals the point at which the communication and knowledge gap appears. These technical documentation professionals are often responsible for convincing key company stakeholders that DITA is:
- A viable documentation solution
- Worthy investment
Usually, those stakeholders are not as technically savvy as the DITA devotees. This is where the knowledge gap widens and we begin to see communication issues rise to the surface. That’s why we’ve taken DITA concepts and urge you to explain them to stakeholders as capabilities instead.
It may seem like we’re splitting hairs here, but the semantic difference could be the deciding factor that influences whether or not your company adopts a DITA solution.
Highlight Value and You’re Already A Step Ahead
When you find yourself in a position to convince stakeholders to adopt a DITA solution, you should take a step back and try to put yourself in their shoes. For instance:
- They’re spending money, so highlight value. Any management team with buying power reserves the right to be skeptical about buying something new. This is especially true when that tool stands to disrupt the status quo. This is why it’s important to highlight the tangible value that DITA would bring to the table.
- Never make assumptions about knowledge. This is a big one. It’s common that company stakeholders will not understand a technical tool like DITA the same way a techcomm professional does. When highlighting the value of DITA, don’t make any assumptions about the knowledge level of your audience. In fact, hand holding is encouraged and simplicity wins audiences more often than complexity. Think of it this way, you’re trying to convince them that DITA will make certain business aspects easier. Present the value of that solution in the clearest terms possible.
- Concrete beats conceptual every time. It’s easy to wax poetic when you’re excited about a tool that you’re fond of using. Unfortunately, translating your conceptual satisfaction with DITA can confuse an audience, whereas concrete examples of use and value show something an audience can see, touch, and replicate. Don’t undervalue the power of concrete examples.
When you approach your company stakeholders with these three strategies, you give yourself solid ground on which to present. Of course, enacting these strategies is simpler in theory than in practice, so we’ll look through some practical examples that’ll help tip the scales in your favor.
Tangibility Has Teeth
Our co-founder shared an important point in the survey that bears mentioning here:
“Benefits are great, but they’re not tangible enough. Content consistency, multichannel publishing, and increased productivity are wonderful buzzwords, but what are these perceived benefits really doing for me? Moreover, what are they doing for our company that will make upper management care? This is why we need to shift our focus from benefits to capabilities. Framing our view this way will communicate what DITA is capable of, and subsequently, the problems it can solve…”
That ending point, framing our view in a way that shows what DITA can do is where we mean that tangibility has teeth. Capabilities are something solid that can be applied to prove a tool’s usefulness. Benefits are results of a tool’s capabilities positively reinforcing aspects of a company’s use cases. The great part is, techcomm professionals are the perfect people to explain the difference.
If you understand DITA, you know what makes it a great solution. All you need to do is recontextualize that value as practical applications that stakeholders will appreciate.
Say your corporation has thousands of pages of documentation dispersed across the world. You know that the semantic metadata DITA provides makes short work of organizing, finding, and utilizing pieces of content across a vast library.
While you might understand this, that explanation might not touch close enough to day-to-day business operations for stakeholders. Try explaining it with a real connection they’ll be able to quickly grasp. For instance, if you show them that it took your team hours to find a handful of documents due to poor naming conventions and organization, you could easily posture DITA as a viable solution. Water down the jargon and, from there, your applications and use cases for DITA should continue to be real, easy to understand, and useful.
In a relatable statement, you’ve provided real-world-context for a DITA capability that can be applied to your company.
We’ve used an analogy that pitted Amazon’s search tool against Google’s search tool to explain faceted search and it was very well received. Don’t underestimate the teaching power of comparative analogies and real-life usefulness, they work wonders.
The way you present your argument for adopting DITA will ultimately make or break your case. Remember:
- Highlight value that your company appreciates
- Think about who you’re speaking to without assuming their knowledge level