The law of diminishing returns and content development

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There’s a law of diminishing returns you have to watch out for when you’re developing thought leadership and other content. “Perfect is the enemy of good,” according to Voltaire. It’s possible to work on content for too long. For example, creating a PowerPoint deck that takes for months. Or, the fact sheets and white papers that snake through endless revisions. After rounds of unnecessary and contradictory reviews, the extra work ends up being a waste. The window of business opportunity closes. Team members must rush to put out a fire on another project. The content then goes to die amongst the cobwebs of a SharePoint site.

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How cloud issues can trickle down to content development

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I regularly discuss with a colleague the state of the cloud and how to make cloud messages resonate with readers He’s a solutions architect. I’m a technical writer. We work in allied professions, but he sees things I don’t see. What I came to see after a few discussions with him is how corporate cloud issues have an even more direct effect on content than other topics I’ve written about during my career.

Here are three ways cloud issues can hurt content development:

1. Lack of cloud subject matter expertise

The cloud is such a fast-moving and evolving topic. I’m just not talking the latest Amazon Web Services (AWS). Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Microsoft Azure. That news is only a part. There’s a plain lack of cloud expertise in organizations to support content development.

The cloud has its share of people who don’t belong. It happens with every major technology trend that hits the market. These are people grasping at the cloud to preserve their political stature. They can hijack the cloud message you need to communicate with your users/readers. Don’t fall for the PowerPoint slides go with people who have the right subject matter expertise in cloud topics.

My preferred subject matter experts for cloud content call themselves lifelong learners. If somebody doesn’t know something. That’s OK. We can figure it out together. There’s nothing worse than somebody BSing me they know something they don’t.

2. Constant cloud services and market evolution

The release velocity of AWS, GCP, and Azure blows past any other technology topics I’ve written about in the past ten years. It’s hard to keep up with the matter. I used to consider myself good at keeping up with technology. Now I find the cloud lapping me with the speed of new feature releases the startup ecosystem that’s sprouting up around the cloud contributes to the pace.

I’ve had the fortune to work with brilliant cloud people. By extension, I have contact with others through IDG TechTalk chats who range from the senior architect to the CxO level. They are people far smarter than me, and they each have challenges keeping up with new releases.

3. Business prevention disguised as change management

It’s no secret I’m no fan of organizational change management (OCM). Too many times I’ve seen OCM become business prevention. OCM should give business users the content and message they need to transition themselves into a cloud-first enterprise but unfortunately, they can bog users down in surveys and other feel-good strategies.

A better cloud change management strategy means:

  • Creating a direct channel with business users by elevating their representation in cloud content development decisions
  • Listening to the cloud pain points from the users themselves not through the filter of a change management team
  • Thinking in terms of frameworks, jumpstart guides, and other content that can enable your business users to start small in the cloud while feeling self-sufficient

Final thoughts

Writers developing technical content about the cloud have to drink from a firehose with or without the challenges I outline in this post. My advice to counter such challenges is to include your writer in early on your cloud projects.

My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content strategist based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve written for corporations and technology publications about such topics as the cloud, DevOps, and enterprise mobility. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly

Airtable for content creators

While seeking out some options to manage an editorial calendar for one of my personal sites, I came across Airtable with its promises to bring the power of a database to a spreadsheet. My position on spreadsheet project management is documented so I was a wee bit skeptical at first. Besides, I’m not a believer in tools that promise to be everything to everybody. Airtable stays away from that trap while still offering a range of templates to govern some current and upcoming content project management needs of mine.

Airtable works on a workspace model that they call a base. Out of the box, there are some useful tools for content creators who are looking for a tool to provide more structure to their strategy and publishing workflows.

Content marketing management base

Even back when I was writing technical documentation, I saw the value of managing publishing as a process even if my employer or client didn’t ask for it directly. The Content Marketing Management feature of Airtable is well-presented and graphically-appealing. It’s a screen that lends itself to be projected on a screen during a meeting.

While I see Airtable for content marketing management for mature departments or teams because it offers so much out of the box for content marketers letting them manage content ideas, personas, published stories, verticals, and SEO keywords for an entire content initiative.

When you click on a publication in the Content Marketing Management table, a record appears which is fully customizable. While the out of the box solution presents some typical publishing milestones, I like a more checklist-based approach that a tool such as Asana, Todoist, or Trello offers but that’s just me. When I dug into the customizable fields, I did find a checkbox field so if you’re like me you could build out your own editorial checklists.

It’s a robust view into content marketing, you can even add new tables to the Content Marketing option to customize Airtable to your publishing workflow

Blog editorial calendar base

Managing a corporate or personal/professional blog is best done with a strategy and plan. Airtable includes a Blog Editorial Calendar workspace that works much the same as the Content Marketing Management base with the same level of customizability.

Final thoughts

The next time I have to meet a requirement to manage an editorial calendar, Airtable — if feasible — will certainly enter the discussion as a possible solution.

I do fault Airtable on the deliberate complexity of its user interface terminology. It has workspaces, bases, and tables. While I applaud the UX of the app, I did need to verify the terminology when I was writing this post.

Their iOS mobile app appears impressive on my iPad Pro and iPhone 8 Plus offering full access to all of Airtable’s features. As I am an early bird in an industry of late risers, full access from a mobile app means I can consult project information during off hours

Airtable comes with a 14-day trial of its premium features. You can choose from tiered pricing.

While Trello remains a go-to tool for me, I must say Airtable has my attention and I can see myself using it on a project at some point in the future.

I’m a technical writer and content development manager living and working in Northern Virginia. Over my career, I’ve written bylined articles for ITSearchOperations, DevOps Agenda, Mobile Business Insights, CNET TechRepublic, and others. My areas of interest include cloud computing, DevOps, enterprise mobility, and collaboration tools. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.

5 lessons I’ve learned from coaching writing

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My work as a technical writer sometimes means that I have to coach solutions architects and other technical people in the fine arts of writing. It’s a part of my work that I’ve come to find a new appreciation for over the past few years.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

1. Technical people hate to write, but there are reasons why

There’s a stereotype that technical people can’t write, and there’s much truth to that statement. I’ve had the fortune to work with some technical people who can write and write well. When I’ve brought up the roots of their writing hate, more than one person pointed back to some negative high school or college experience with a teacher. Another frequent response was being too busy.

2. Keep it simple for the non-writer

My rule for coaching a non-writer is to keep it simple for them. Figuring out just how to keep things simple for the non-writer happens on a case-by-case basis for me at least. Here’s a sampling of some things I’ve done in the past:

  • Encourage the non-writer to focus on being methodical and to break down what they are writing about on a whiteboard or on a piece of scratch paper
  • Encourage the logical thinking side of the technical person because of the role it plays in writing technical content
  • Tell them that the semicolon isn’t their friend so use Short paragraphs and sentences to improve clarity in their writing
  • Ask them what they need from me to be successful in writing the document and adjust my coaching approach with them

3. Encourage the non-writer to iterate on writing

I always advise anybody I coach writing to iterate upon what they write and sit on their drafts at least a day before they revise them if they have the time. It’s something I do as a writer, and I often relate my own experience with using this practice myself.

Depending on the person, I also encourage them to write a draft without editing until the draft is complete.

4. Introduce the non-writer to machine editing

Self-editing for non-writers takes time and practice for non-writers in my experience. I’m always happy to recommend machine editing tools to these people. HemingwayApp — which highlights lengthy and verbose sentences — and also Grammarly to non-writers I’m working with on a project. While these apps and others like them can’t replace a human editor, they can help serve as another set of checks for a non-writer who might not yet be confident in their writing skills.

I use that fact that AI is underlying today’s machine editing tools to make it more attractive to non-writers who’d benefit from the technology.

5. Deliver constructive and actionable reviews of what they write

It’s hard to not write in the IT industry and not have some bad experiences with document reviewers and editors. My aim is always to deliver constructive and actionable reviews of documents from non-writers that add value to their document and them.

It’s important to be seen as a collaborator, not as their freshman comp teacher. Part of this collaboration comes from being conversant in technology the document is supposed to cover. You can instantly lose credibility as a writing coach when you try to mold writing to fit your lack of understanding. You gain credibility when you write constructive comments with intelligent questions.

Final thoughts

While I dare say that writing does bring me joy in many circumstances, the same can’t be said for technical staff. I’ve made it my mission as a coach to offer the people I’m helping a positive experience with writing.

I’m a technical writer and content development manager living and working in Northern Virginia. Over my career, I’ve written bylined articles for ITSearchOperations, DevOps Agenda, Mobile Business Insights, CNET TechRepublic, and others. My areas of interest include cloud computing, DevOps, enterprise mobility, and collaboration tools. Follow me on Twitter: @willkelly.