Re: Value added

Subject: Re: Value added
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- SIMPLYWRITTEN -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 4 Feb 1999 13:21:05 -0500

>Hello, I'm currently learning about the value added by technical documents
>in one of my classes. My professor told us that this value should always
>measurable. My question is--how do you measure the value added by a
>technical document which is being used as a "show piece"? For example, a
>web page designed to show off? How do you measure the client satisfaction?

Your professor is theory. All business products should have
quantifiable benefits to the customer and/or to the vendor. But...

There are always aspects of business that are just gut-feel. How do you
quantify the benefits of one type of packaging over another? Logo colors?
Web versus no-internet? Email attachments over zip disks? It's possible to
quantify these and other aspects in many different ways. As with so much
else in business, it depends on your accounting assumptions.

Let's take the position that many smaller companies do: if it saves you a
few bucks, it's worth it. Few companies under the Fortune 500 make any
attempt to do cost/sales charts; most work on rules of thumb, like "if it's
less expensive, I want it". If you apply this simple logic to tech doc, you
discover that it's better not to do any at all. Or, if forced to do it, you
should hire the cheapest person you can, fire him thereafter, and publish
the whole thing on a CD-ROM in PDF. The only counterargument to this is the
marketing guy going "Whoa now, at the last big show we went to, customers
kept coming up to me and whacking me up-side the head for not having decent
documentation." Even that may not cut any ice, if the assumption still holds
that less-is-necessarily-more-profitable. If there are still customers able
to whack, so that logic says, then sales must still be brisk, doc or no doc.

The next step up is a long and fuzzy one, because there has been very little
research into the value that tech doc adds in general. Several larger
companies have done research into the various cost/benefit scenarios of tech
doc and its delivery, but that research is typically proprietary and
specific to those companies' products. The data may not apply outside of
those limits. But as a practical matter, such specific research must be done
to acquire a true picture for your particular company, its customers, and
its tech doc needs.

Now, if you do that kind of research, what do you track or measure? Ouch.
How about customer bitching? That's commonly done, but rather unreliable, as
all opinion surveys are. But otherwise, what do you use as a measuring base?
There are more esoteric bases, like the cost of correcting doc in the field
versus original edits, and saving help desk time. You can even measure user
task-assistance times, and possibly convince the vendor's decision-makers
that a lower time is necessarily a better thing than a higher one, thus
giving you a market advantage. It could work.

The fact is, though, that nobody has yet shown much of a positive
correlation (despite our fervent prayers) between really good, usable tech
doc and really good, profitable sales. Happier users, yes. But not to better
sales. Users aren't always buyers, and buyers write the checks. Tech doc
remains a gut-feel matter, with more money being spent on it in any given
project largely because somebody within the company believes in it, not
because that person can point to something quantifiable.

Still, there is a rumor I haven't followed up on...a friend of mine near the
banking industry has said that banks lending money to startups that require
documentation are increasingly viewing the documentation as an asset, in the
technical sense of that word.

Tim Altom
Adobe Certified Expert, Acrobat
Simply Written, Inc.
The FrameMaker support people
Ask about Clustar Method training and consulting

>Kersten J. Richter
>rich0092 -at- tc -dot- umn -dot- edu
>From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000==

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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