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Introducing a content management system: The significance of the maturity level of the editors

Component content management systems are becoming more and more important for the creation of technical documentation. Nowadays, there is a whole range of reliable and affordable systems as well as proven process models for their introduction. Still, people ask questions about the migration of the documentation to a new technology: How does introducing a component content management system influence the daily work of the technical editors? Is the editorial team “mature” enough for such a fundamental innovation?

Switching to a component content management system can also make sense for editorial teams with a relatively low maturity level. It may even be an effective measure to increase the maturity level.

Component content management systems: opportunities and challenges

With a component content management system, the chance to manage document versions and variants in a simple way, the work- and time-saving potential of reusing modularized content, and the associated cost reduction offer relief for technical editors. But is every editorial team able to benefit from those advantages? After all, working with a component content management system requires highly structured working processes, which may represent a major conversion for many teams. Editors who are used to unstructured working methods, without clearly defined processes or mandatory standards, face unknown challenges. Is it advisable for those teams to switch to a component content management system?

JoAnn Hackos has developed the Information Process Maturity Model to evaluate and document the maturity level of a technical editing team. The evaluation regards several factors, such as the organizational structure, the constitution of documents and quality assurance.

On that fundament, technical editing teams can be divided into five maturity levels:

  • Level 1: There are no consistent processes or standards. Every single editor develops his own standards individually. The quality of the documentation is highly dependent on the competence of the single editors. There is no quality assurance.
  • Level 2: There are some attempts to unify processes and standards as well as performing quality assurance. However, time pressure and changing demands mean that those attempts are dropped.
  • Level 3: Consistent processes and standards have been introduced and accepted. Everybody acknowledges the necessity of well-founded project planning and reliable quality assurance.
  • Level 4: Everybody shows a high level of commitment for the compliance with consistent processes and standards. There are well-elaborated procedures to estimate and fulfil the needs of the customers.
  • Level 5: Beyond level 4, there is an endeavour for continuous innovation. Processes and standards are scutinized constantly. There is a drive for improvement.

According to this model, the current maturity level of an editorial team seems to be a decisive for whether the introduction of a content management system is successful or not – the higher the maturity level, the higher the chances of success. The editorial team should at least be at Level 3 in the list above.

The reason for this lies in the demands of working with a content management system: Only editorial teams with maturity level 3 offer a sufficient measure of standardization to meet those demands. Therefore, thinking about the introduction of a content management system does not seem very promising for editorial teams with a maturity level below 3.

But is this constraint really sustainable? Are there no good reasons for “immature” editorial teams to converse to a content management system?

How a component content management system has a positive effect on the maturity level and how it increases the professionalism of an editorial team

So far, this was about how the existing maturity level determines the chances of success for the introduction of a system. However, there has to be reversed causality as well: using the introduction of a component content management system to increase the maturity level, or at least to be a contributing factor in the process.

Surely, it is convincing that working with a component content management system requires a certain degree of standardized processes, and that the introduction is easier with a high maturity level. But the same goes vice versa: A component content management system can help its users with the implementation of standards.

A component content management system may also cause a culture shock

The solution should not be to confront the editorial team with an elaborated concept and request an immediate adaption to the demands of the system. Proceding that way will undoubtly ask too much even of the most motivated team members. It will most likely give them a culture shock. However, competent guidance may not only cushion the blow, but could also be an effective way to convey the necessary maturity level. A training should raise awareness that it is more proctical to reuse modularized content than to recreate redundant content. That way, the functionality of the system becomes a working standard.

The focus should be on the following learning objectives:

  • Insight into the importance of a standardized way of working
  • Development of mandatory standards for the creation of documents

The training methods necessary for this are part of the implementation of the content management system and gradually teach the editors the necessary competencies. In the process, the team will experience how working with a content management system is time-saving and economic, for example when creating formatted output documents based on a DTD, compared to elaborate manual formating. This is a psychological aspect in motivating the team which should not be underestimated. The effort of starting with a component content management system is quickly rewarded with a considerable facilitation.

For didactic reasons, it may be sensible to precede the introduction with a partial implementation in which the content management system is introduced and tested by a limited number of editors. That way, some inevitable difficulties can be overcome more easily.

Possibly, it is also necessary to convince the management to find the patience for guiding the process over the entire timescale. The lower the maturity level at the beginning, the longer it will take until the component content management system is introduced and is working efficiently – here, it is paramount to be prepared for setbacks and frustration in order for the project to be successful.

Only after a successful introduction the timeframe for the Return on Investment starts

Even if the productivity initially goes down, as modularizing content makes the creation of documents more elaborate, the productivity will increase in the long term thanks to the reuse of the modularized objects. Additionally, the component content mangement system will result in the reduction of translation costs.

The implementation and the associated training effort are a good opportunity to practice the fundamentals of professional and standardized working.