RE: Advocating Documentation and Support

Subject: RE: Advocating Documentation and Support
From: "LeVie, Donald S" <donald -dot- s -dot- levie -at- intel -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 9 Mar 2001 05:55:40 -0800

David Locke asked:
<<Why is the documentation department seen as a cost?...What I really
produce is loyal, satisfied customers...<<

David is correct when he states that most of the "justification" we can
muster mostly involves reducing calls to technical support, which we can
assign a $$ value to. Using traditional accounting methods, how can you
apply a quantitative measure to producing "loyal, satisfied customers?" By
using well-designed surveys and questionnaires of customers, you can obtain
some semblence of value by keeping statistics on those results and applying
them to the cost of customer retention (for example, "88% of our customers
think our documentation is excellent and believe that it is crucial to using
our products." If you know how much it costs to obtain a new customer or
keep an existing one, you can arrive at a relative value for "saving"
customer retention costs).

Much of the problem with assigning value to documentation parallels the
struggles IT organizations had in the late '80s and early '90s justifying
themselves as bottom-line contributing functions. Like IT, technical
communications/information development benefits to the business can be
difficult to quantify, and as a result are often left out of the business
valuation model. And like IT, the technical communications landscape is
littered with metrics that micromonitor any number of traditional
activities. But because they are internal measures that aren't linked to
business strategy, they don't matter to the powers that be holding the purse
strings or driving the company's corporate vision.

To demonstrate to several apps engineers how I add value but how hard it is
to quantify, I bet them that I could add value to any particular page in a
microprocessor spec in less than 30 seconds by touching only one key on the
keyboard. They accepted. The selected a page of text from a current spec.
After scanning the paragraphs on the page, I used the mouse (the secret
weapon) to rearrange the order of the paragraphs, made a bullet list out of
one (using only the return key and the mouse), and split one long paragraph
into three smaller ones, each with its own main idea. They all agreed that
page was much easier to read and creating the bullet list made the important
information stand out. Then I asked them to assign a $$ value to what I had
just done. They all saw my point.

Investment in technical communication typically has a third-order financial
effect (the effect David mentions about satisfied customers). For example,
technical communications improves some intermediate valuation, such as
customer service, which in turn boosts customer confidence, which finally
results in increased sales for the company. What we need is a valuation
model that makes visible those intermediate steps, in ways that can be
quantified, measured, and tracked.

To make TC valuation work, it must be embraced outside of the TC
organization. We have to do a better job evangelizing what it is we do (no,
we don't create manuals; we facilitate the transfer of usable knowledge
about our products to our customers to allow them to be successful.

I've seen and been involved with too many attempts at determining value in a
"stovepipe" or "silo" manner, where every function uses a different set of
measures to advance different goals. TC valuation must be spread across
organizational boundaries for it to have bottom-line implications.

I'd better climb down off the soapbox now because I can almost see Dallas
from here, but a TC valuation model is one area where much research is
needed.

Donn Le Vie
Information Engineering
Network Communications Group
Wireless Communications and Computing Group
Intel Corporation






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