As a Customer Success Manager (CSM) for easyDITA, I’ve worked with many different types of customers and helped them through their implementations of easyDITA. Some customers are moving to DITA for the first time, while others are moving from another DITA system into easyDITA. In all cases, one of the first priorities is establishing an implementation plan. This process involves establishing project goals, outlining the plan, and then following a path of continuous refinement.
Defining Project Goals
I recently worked with a customer, let’s call them Acme, that was implementing DITA for the first time and moving all their legacy content from Word documents and other formats into easyDITA. Acme was very excited to move into DITA and had several goals in mind:
- Break down content silos so different groups within the organization could leverage their content library to reuse content and find information
- Prepare for localization requirements as the company expanded into international markets
- Publish the same content in their manuals, their website, their learning and training materials, and their customer support resources
Outlining an Implementation Plan
The customer-defined goals provided a good basis for formulating a plan. Acme had some key goals in mind, but we found that they were unaware of some of the other aspects of DITA Content Management that could affect their plan. To ensure that our customers go into an implementation with a well thought out plan, we use an Implementation Plan Template to begin outlining key considerations.
At the beginning of a new customer engagement, like that of Acme, we first set up a goal-setting meeting to determine any project goals and timelines. During this meeting, we prioritize each of the items in the Implementation Plan, determine who will be responsible for each item, and identify any blockers. For some items, we set target dates and add any questions that need to be answered.
Refining the Implementation Plan
The outlined Implementation Plan is a good starting point, but I’ve found this process involves a lot of training as well. As an easyDITA CSM, it’s my job to guide customers as they strategize and refine their implementation plan.
For example, when I sat down with Acme to go over their Implementation Plan, I asked, “Do you reuse any content now and where do you see opportunities for greater reuse?”
They said, “Well, as you know, we want to use the same content for multiple deliverables that cross many departments. Many of our products are similar, and all the support information is the same. We also publish content specifically for internal audiences and similar content for our customers. Many of our procedures are similar or just slightly changed depending on the platform a customer is using. We’d also like to standardize the language of any legal disclaimers to ensure we’re well protected.”
This is a pretty common scenario but brings up many other questions about the implementation for this customer, such as:
- Would conditional processing work for tagging content for different audiences?
- At what level do you want to reuse content? Maps, topics, block elements, inline elements?
- Where should reusable content be stored?
- Do you want to use variables so you can reuse the same content for similar products and just change the product name or small details?
- What are the localization implications of using variables or reusing elements?
It’s important to consider all these questions as early as possible and develop a strong, comprehensive, and scalable reuse strategy during the planning phase. Because DITA is a powerful and comprehensive structured content standard, it’s designed to handle these scenarios in a number of ways, which means there can be many considerations beyond the obvious.
With Acme, this process first involved several hours of training the lead contacts about each of the reuse mechanisms before they could make specific decisions about their implementation plan. Once everyone felt comfortable with their subject knowledge, we made some decisions and drafted a reuse strategy. Then, we trained all the writers on it, so everyone was on the same page. Because we were well prepared, Acme was able to begin authoring content using their well-thought-out reuse strategy on Day One.
Acme was a fairly simple case. If you have a lot of content or complex requirements, you should strongly consider a DITA consultant. Many of our customers work closely with a consultant on their information architecture. This enables them to come to the table with a well-defined strategy based on the recommendations of their consultant. Working with a consultant can be an excellent investment, as they’ll help you define your content requirements and develop the strategies you’ll use to implement your DITA project. For more information on investing in a consultant, see When do you need a DITA consultant, and why?
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is this: it’s great to go into a DITA project with goals in mind, but ultimately you need a well thought out plan as well. The planning process often opens up many questions, and it’s important to try to consider all the implications of any specific course of action. Of course, it helps to have some experts on your side! Whether this is an employee with a lot of DITA experience, a consultant, or your easyDITA Customer Success Manager, having someone who can ask the right questions and provide the information you need is integral to deciding on the plan!
The easyDITA Journey: This blog post series focuses on how DITA users can work through the process of implementing easyDITA in their organizations.