World class, summary (long)

Subject: World class, summary (long)
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Mon, 30 Oct 1995 11:44:00 EST

>Some time back, I posted a question from a client about what constitutes a
>"world class" company and, by extension, "world class" documentation. Here's
>a summary of what came back to me. Some of these comments were on the group,
>while others were private. Thanks to everyone who responded.

>Most respondents felt that the term "world class" was merely a buzzword.
>Mike Huber said that is was a label that strongly implied that marketing had
>written the documentation, rather than the tech doc team. John Gear, while
>acknowledging that "world class" was an annoying cliche, wrote that "'World
>class' is a benchmarking term used in a scale of descriptors for the quality
>of services and manufactured goods (industry best/best of class/world
>class)," in essence, you're positioning yourself against the best there is,
>worldwide, in a kind of willingness to step up to the "big leagues." He did
>not, however, go into greater detail about how the benchmarks were
>established, monitored or maintained. Or, indeed, who is to do these things,
>whether foreign or local.

>Some respondents were more specific. Wayne Hausmann laid out a
>tongue-in-cheek set of two measurements for "world class" documentation:
>it's mentioned favorably in magazine reviews of the product, and it wins STC
>contest award. He goes on to explain that using those measurements has, at
>the very least, benefited his tech doc department enormously.

>Stuart Burnfield, while also cynical about the term "world class," opined
>that documentation meeting that standard would probably meet the simple
>standards we're all familiar with: helping the customer/reader do their
>jobs, knowing all the customers/readers, being clear and concise, using the
>right medium for the task, producing materials efficiently, and adding value
>to the product/service.

>Some respondents, of course, mentioned translations. Geoff Bradbury, for
>example, extracted his definition of "world class" from the dictionary:
>"...sufficiently good to be acceptable anywhere in the world." and mentioned
>that "world class" documentation must therefore be readily

>My analysis of the responses is this: To be "world class," you have to do
>what you've always done to make a quality product, but you'll have to do
>more of it. To be specific:

>1) We've always striven to know our audiences. But "knowing our audience" in
>a global marketplace isn't as easy as having worked in the industry in the
>U.S. To produce "world class" documentation, we have to take into account
>the cultures, languages and expectations of people very different from us.
>It means much more usability testing and a lot more language and cultural

>2) We must compare our work now with that produced by every competitor
>worldwide, even with those who have little or no presence in the U.S. And we
>must evaluate the competition's work, not with our own provincial standards
>of usability, clarity and appearance, but with an eye to what is accepted
>beyond our territorial waters. "Quality" will now have different meanings in
>different circumstances. We cannot just fall back on our U.S.-bred gut
>feelings of what constitutes quality work. It must be more formalized and
>tested. We can no longer trust our instincts, because they are largely
>culturally-based. The nodding heads around the tables at review meetings are
>not enough quality check anymore. It must be more analytical and based on
>cultural norms other than our own.

>3) Availability of resources varies worldwide. A computer-based online
>training manual may not be appropriate in Thailand, where computers are

>4) We must be prepared to redefine what we mean by "adding value to the
>product or service" that we are documenting. Other cultures often use the
>products or services differently than we do in the U.S. We must not only be
>sensitive to such differences, we must anticipate them. And we must resist
>the temptation to resent other cultures' rejections of our approaches.

>In short, it's what we've always done, but more so. The challenge is in an
>arena where the United States has traditionally done poorly, that of
>inter-cultural relationships. It's comparatively easy to amass
>specifications of foreign products and then boost them slightly to turn out
>a "better" product in U.S. factories. But it's much harder to understand the
>foreign market's mindset and peculiar needs. Perhaps that is why
>technology-driven American companies have made a joke out of the term "world
>class," placing the responsibility for making their products "world class"
>on their marketing departments rather than on their designers and factories.

>Again, thanks to all who participated. Further thoughts are welcome and
>encouraged, both public and in private.

>Tim Altom
>Vice President
>Simply Written, Inc.
>Technical Documentation and Training
>Voice 317.899.5882
>Fax 317.899.5987

Tim Altom
Vice President
Simply Written, Inc.
Technical Documentation and Training
Voice 317.899.5882
Fax 317.899.5987

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