By Naveh Greenberg, Director, US Defense Development, DCL

The world of converting and managing content is complex… all the more so when you choose to move to a standard such as Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA). The early adopters of DITA had to blaze new paths, and learned expensive lessons along the way. Experience matters, and companies considering a DITA initiative can save time, reduce risk, and increase productivity by taking these lessons to heart before launch.

We surveyed 12 companies that implemented DITA to uncover the realities—the challenges and success factors—that proved critical to the success of their efforts. The duration of these implementations ranged from two to five years, and all of the companies reported that while successful, implementation took much longer than anticipated. We synthesized the input from all 12 teams and came up with five top “P” lessons you can take advantage of before you start your own DITA implementation effort:

  • Plan
  • Phase
  • Pilot
  • Prepare
  • Partner

Plan the Project and the People

The benefits of DITA are well-documented and often serve as the rationale for launching a conversion and management effort:

  • Cost savings by reducing composition and translation efforts based on reusing content
  • Decreased time to market
  • Improved internal efficiencies stemming from adoption of structured writing and centralized content management

Such overall business objectives lay a solid foundation for planning an intensive effort. But equally important are understanding the specific and unique content requirements for your organization, and how the changes will affect those responsible for creating and managing content. Our 12 companies found that more and earlier training in structured writing and the DITA standard would have greatly benefitted the project. And like so many complex projects that have an enterprise impact, they all expressed the need for more management support of their DITA projects.

Phase the Implementation for Manageability

Following a proven project methodology provides value by ensuring you have the resources and capability to manage a complex effort. So taking a phased approach helps ensure you’ve address needs, risks, and resources, and can adjust as new information or unexpected results come to light. Our survey participants found time spent on deep-dive analysis of current content—structure, formats, currency, and quality—and the processes your creation and production teams currently use to publish content supported better decision-making on critical aspects of the DITA solution. And during this early-phase deep dive, you’ll want to identify the potential for content reuse, cited as one of the major business drivers behind DITA implementations.

Design and development phases should also take into account the potential benefit from incorporating additional DITA specializations to allow them to take even better advantage of the benefits of structured content, appropriately tagged. So understanding your own business requirements and developing a specification to address them becomes another key phase in implementation.

All of our respondents felt that a pilot phase was crucial. In fact, several of them pointed out that multiple pilots would have provided even greater benefits so that unique conditions and requirements could have been adequately addressed. Bottom line: manage in phases so that emerging issues can be addressed early on and opportunities leveraged.

Pilot and Test Iteratively to Safeguard Quality

Every organization has unique content needs and conditions under which they produce content. Your well-phased project plan may include smaller, simplified pilots to uncover those unique conditions, in both existing processes and legacy content. Developing the right methods to handle conditions before going to full production saves you and your content team a lot of pain down the road when you’re in full production mode.

The survey respondents that performed an extensive inventory and analysis of legacy content found that they were better able to design pilots that accommodated representative samples of content. They also recommend carefully considering and prioritizing the content that should be rewritten completely, and what requires some modification to fit a structured model. Capture lessons learned from every phase, especially pilot efforts to adjust workflows and processes, and engage the content team throughout.

Prepare Your Stakeholders with Realistic Expectations

In addition better estimating the timeframe required for DITA implementation, these survey respondents agreed that ongoing communication is essential to prepare the stakeholders with realistic expectations about levels of effort, cost savings, and ROI over time. One of the best ways to support the effort to prepare your stakeholders involves continuous collaboration between your team and vendors to identify clear and measurable goals, and then track progress throughout.

Partner with Experts: Don’t Go it Alone

Like any major technology initiative, a DITA implementation is more complicated, will take longer, and produce surprises as well as long-term benefits for the organization. Uncovering the unknowns, configuring processes, and transitioning to production is hard. For example, all 12 companies identified a common goal of multi-purposing content, but required the expertise of professionals to determine how to decompose legacy content, and the best ways to deliver the specific output types required. Even though all of these companies reported satisfaction with the “out-of-the-box” functionality of their DITA solutions, developing processes around that functionality relied on acquiring in-house expertise, consultants, or vendor support.

When your organization needs to manage massive quantities of content, finding the right solution takes perseverance. Let DCL help you as you take on this opportunity.

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