Keep projects on track with these simple tips

ACpostingHere are some tips I’ve learned that can make a project go more smoothly and with less people conflicts or administrative headaches. I use them in my work and you may find them helpful too.

Good briefings for good results

Resist the tendency to have a preliminary discussion about a new project and then decide ‘OK, let’s get going’. It seems proactive but in the long run this could be a recipe for disaster. Improper planning can result in a project getting derailed on timing and going over budget. Take the time to really define the messaging and scope of the project then create a briefing that addresses both practical and strategic issues.

Example: People focus on some details but neglect others. I received a briefing from a client that provided lots of background information, more than I really needed (huge PowerPoints and Word docs), including links to a company intranet that I could not access. Here’s what was missing:

  • Who exactly is your target audience for this document?
  • When a person reads the document, what do you want them to do ?

 Who really needs to know about the project?

I’m not suggesting that you cc: everyone in your company or the planet. Just consider who needs to be informed about the project during its various stages. People involved in the early planning phase may not want to be copied on ongoing correspondence. They may be satisfied with periodic updates – find out so you can keep everyone informed but not overwhelmed by details.

InflueI recommend that you also pay attention to the subtle but important role of an influencer. Every organization has people who don’t directly make decisions but they are very much in the loop and influence those who do make the decisions.

Example: I learned this the hard way earlier in my career. I started on a new project that seemed clear and straightforward. I informed the people who I felt needed to know…but I missed one. This person was an influencer; someone who wanted to be in the know, even if he didn’t have an active role in the project.

 Just as the project reached the validation stage, the influencer spoke up and began to derail the whole process with new input and objections. As a result, some work had to be revised at the last minute. A colleague told me, ‘if you cc: him early in the process, he’ll be perfectly happy. If you don’t, he’ll feel obligated to create waves later on.’ Lesson learned!

Standardize file names and version control

My last tip seems obvious, but it’s a common problem. As content goes through revisions, it’s crucial that everyone is working with the most current version of text. Clearly establish rules for how to name and update files. You’ll save time and greatly reduce the potential for mistakes, especially if your files have to be checked by people in different departments.

Example: One of my clients outsources the writing and design of a quarterly 40-page corporate magazine. The source language is English and the articles are translated to Dutch, German, Spanish and Italian. Accuracy is crucial throughout the writing, revision, translation and validation process, which includes review by the legal department.

Edits and last-minute changes are not unusual, so some files are updated continuously. It’s a big project, so I depend on some colleagues in my dream team. Fabien (translation expert with an incredible patience level) and Zorica (charming but strict project manager and content maven) taught me the value of proper file names. Here’s their formula, of course you can create your own criteria for the title. Just be consistent!

File name: Edition of magazine_Year Month Day. Name of Article_version.doc CE7_20161702.ProductNews_01.doc

A good file naming system and version control is useful when you are working with cross-cultural teams where there is no common language except English. I often work with designers who are not fluent in English. They are experts in design but don’t read the text as they’re putting it into the layout. I make sure that they have the right text to work with; this prevents proofreading nightmares later on.

Thanks for taking the time to visit my site, I hope these tips were useful! Please contact me if you need consulting, copywriting or translation assistance with your next project. 

Good technical documentation delivers ROI & customer satisfaction

 “In a world where technology and innovation refuse to rest, the following rule is increasingly true: the more complex your product, the more important it is to explain how your product works – clearly, completely and accurately.”

I couldn’t agree more with this statement, it comes from an excellent white paper: “Why Documentation Matters, and Why Outsourcing Makes Sense”, written by Rob Webber and edited by Jose Druker.

Good technical documentation delivers ROI and customer satisfaction

An example of this is how WordPress has evolved with their technical documentation and support. I’m a big WordPress fan but there are times when innovations to the user interface are not always intuitive (at least to me).  In the past, some of the technical explanations created more confusion than clarity. But the good news is that WordPress listened to user feedback and the technical how-tos are getting better and better. If the Help section and FAQs don’t provide enough information, friendly humans (“Happiness Engineers”) respond promptly to problems or questions.  Loyal users also step up to help others in the discussion area.

This satisfies me as a customer – I get the answers I need, I feel part of a user community, and I see that WordPress is actively responding to my needs. As of this writing, there are over 73,000,000 WordPress sites in the world – I take that as a clear sign that the company is trying hard to deliver on customer satisfaction.

Andrew, one of my colleagues at Architect of Communication, is an engineer and technical communications specialist.  He shares these thoughts:

“Good technical documentation has a clear Return on Investment (ROI). The ROI is that the customer does not associate frustration with the product or the brand, after-sales services receive fewer calls and less unnecessary product returns are made. This consumer report by Accenture underlines my point:

American consumers returned $13.8 billion in electronics in 2007. Between 60 percent and 85 percent of this equipment was perfectly functional, but the purchasers returned it because of confusing interfaces, features that were difficult to access, a lack of customer education and weak documentation. These were all factors that excellent written communication could have solved — yet in its absence, many electronics companies found that they were frustrating customers to the point of initiating a product return, and their credibility was taking a hit.”

Is clear and concise technical documentation part of your company’s communication strategy?

We offer expert technical copywriting and engineering consulting, including translation to 30+ languages, for industrial, scientific or medical documentation. Please contact me for information on these services or a free estimate on your project.

Virtual teams offer unique advantages

When Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo, ordered employees to work on-site instead of at home, her decision provoked debate about the productivity factor of virtual workers.  I’ve followed this discussion with great interest, because I collaborate with location independent professionals. I’m based in Paris, they are busy at work in Europe, North America, Africa and the Eurasian region.  My clients are international companies who need to outsource communication projects and are looking for copywriting, project management, translation or design services.  I can handle smaller assignments myself, but when larger projects cross borders and require experts that know the language and local market, I call in the team.

I first worked with virtual collaborators when I was a partner in a Silicon Valley consultancy.  Clients trusted our ability to deliver and the jobs rolled in. When public relations firms needed copywriting help for a special event, the phone started ringing.  If there was an on-site meeting at a company, someone from the team was there.  If a photographer was needed, we knew the right person to call.  At one point, I was working with clients in the US and Europe, using a laptop and a well-connected team of collaborators.  I could have started a traditional agency with employees sitting in cubicles.  But my partner and I didn’t…we stayed small but highly focused on our capabilities and had smart, competent people working with us.  The same success factor exists today with my business Architect of Communication.

Keeping a virtual team together requires planning, good management skills and a sense of humor is useful.  It’s important to be accessible, transparent and open to both your customers and work mates.  But when you have a good team, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.

“Suppose you put in place a project team where people from different regions collaborate to develop a product that responds successfully to a variety of local markets,” says Erin Meyer, INSEAD Affiliate Professor of Organisational Behaviour. “In this case you need people who are IN those markets and regions to work as one team.  So in that case, team members will need to be geographically distributed and there is a clear, positive reason they need to be in different places.   In that case, the benefit of the geographic distribution likely outweighs the disadvantages.”  Read the entire article here.

Bottom-line:  I’m convinced that a virtual team is a cost-effective and strategic way to deliver quality communication support, wherever you are in the world, and when you need it. Need some backup statistics?  Check this Cost & Benefits summary from Global Workplace Analytics.

Photo: Francesca Palazzi

Photo: Francesca Palazzi