Coming clean at the 2017 soap! conference in Krakow

I fell in love with soap in 2015. No, not that material you use for washing. The technical communication conference in Kraków, Poland, called soap! with the lower-case “s” and the exclamation mark.

Pink poster of the soap! conference with another small sign showing arrow pointing to the right

I returned for the 2017 soap! experience, which is what I want to share here. I am providing a summary of the conference design, some useful links for additional reading, and all my personal, rather raw notes from the talks. Those are shared “as is”. If you wonder what I meant by something, leave a comment!

I hope some of the information here will inspire you to consider joining the “soapy” community next year in Kraków.

Note: This is a very long post because it covers two days of info from a conference. I wrote it as a reference article for storing my notes.

Where can you find more information about the soap! conference?

The soap! team has a great video summary of the soap! 2017 conference. Watch it if you think this post is too long and too much to read, or watch it for inspiration for your first or next attempt at summarising an event with a nice video.

Other links are:

What is the structure of the soap! conference?

This conference is run by a dedicated group of volunteers and supported by some great sponsors and a registration fee. The conference ran for three days with the main conference on Thursday, 8 June, and Friday, 9 June. On Wednesday, 7 June, there was an all-day Edu Summit filled with workshops ranging from one hour to seven hours. The Edu Summit was only open to the main conference attendees. Topics ranged from DITA to UX to structured authoring.

On Thursday and Friday, the conference ran from 9.00 to 18.00. The doors opened half-an-hour before so attendees could grab a coffee and a bite to eat and say hi to the other attendees.

The location was perfect for this time of year. We used the conference room at the beautiful Manggha museum on the banks of the Vistula River, just across from the Wavel Royal Castle.

Entrance to Manggha Museum in Krakow, Poland on a sunny day with blue skies

The skies were blue and the weather was just right for all three days, with the clouds staying away until we all dispersed after the conference. Sitting on the terrace outside the Manggha café with that lovely view seemed to keep the conversations going non-stop.

This volunteer-run conference also included great evening events: bowling after the Edu Summit, a concert on the banks of the river at the end of Day 1, and a brew pub (T.E.A. Time) after the conference.

The conference always has a theme. This year’s theme was “problem solving”.

They solicited our thoughts for the theme for 2018. Four proposed themes were written up on a whiteboard, and we could vote for a theme with soap! stickers. “Artificial intelligence and content” won the popular vote. Now the committee will evaluate how to make that work as a theme for the 2018 edition of soap!.

What is so great about the soap! conference?

I have to quote one of the speakers, Oded Ilan, on this. He summed up my sentiments in the video summary of the conference.

I see so many young people engaged and interested in [this technical communication field]… That’s the most powerful thing I saw at this event. – Oded Ilan

Why is it called the soap! conference

I learned about the soap! name at the 2015 conference. Gosia Radymiak, head of the soap! team and conference, said it was a fun idea that came up in conversation. They called it “soap” to stand for strategy, opportunity, advancement, and professionalism. Think of it as a fresh, clean start, said Gosia. “It’s something we can relate to, something we ‘just gotta have’.” I think a lot of writers know many manuals that could use a good scrub to get a fresh, clean start! It’s a great analogy.

What was the biggest takeaway from the soap! conference?

It’s all about people and communicating with people. Talk to people. Learn from people. Those people can be those using your products or services and they can be those you work with every day. They can be those you work for or those who work for you.

The talks – my notes and the videos

The remainder of this blog post is a list of all the talks in the order that they were presented along with a link to the video of their presentation and whatever (raw) notes I took.

  1. User documentation vs loser documentation: Great content, no readers?—Dirk Göhmann & Cate Mackenzie
  2. What the tag? From Wiki to DITA CMS in less than 80 days—Barbara Szwarc & Justyna Adamczyk & Mateusz Wiktor
  3. The yin-yang of technical writing. Solve your problems to the user’s advantage—Jarek Orłowski
  4. “Done! Oh, wait… we need translation.” Facilitating content translation process—Dagmara Szostak
  5. Finding your way back from Documentation Mordor—Natalia Katryńska
  6. More than just a technical writer—Maryland Sara
  7. Problems you can solve and create with DITA—Patrick Bosek
  8. Documenting microservicesŁukasz Górnicki
  9. No documentation strategy? Build one from scratch! —Tomek Prus
  10. Need more problems? Start localizing videos! —Anton Bollen
  11. What 1000 participants taught me about productivity—Piotr Nabielec
  12. Overcoming the Forgetting Curve: New Content Creation Paradigms—Oded Ilan
  13. Quality technical training – Making things happen—Szymon Serwatka & Gosia Pytel
  14. Always open – Open source documentation with open tools—Meike Chabowski
  15. Reducing waste in a project with conflicting needs. The story of the 33 miners—Adam Sanyo
  16. Our content sucks, right..!?!? —Alan Miller
  17. The Convergence of Marketing and Technical Communication—Stefan Gentz
  18. Customer success and UX – The ultimate tag team—Paddy McShane
  19. Remote Collaboration for Introverted Geeks and Misanthropes—Brad Schmidt
  20. How to turn local success into global failure—Marta Bartnicka
  21. Rethinking your content. Happifying through improved usability—Joanna Malicka & Tomasz Poznanski
  22. Keynote: Inspiring action through content leadership—Kristina Mausser

View of the stage for the soap! conference with the logo displayed on large monitor

User documentation vs loser documentation: Great content, no readers?

With Dirk Göhmann and Cate Mackenzie from Appway, Switzerland

See the recording of Dirk and Cate’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

Great title! You can have great content, but no readers! So true.

What direction do you want to go in? Do we just want to produce great content? Written and published a manual and that’s it?? That can actually be loser docs. No one is interested in it and it never really gets to the reader. How to get USER docs.

Four areas they looked at – the journey they are on:

  • Findability
  • Analytics
  • Testing with users
  • Engagement

1. Findability

Used “Find Waldo” to illustrate situation. The user needs get lost in the chaos. Can you avoid this with “site search”?

What factors are there for your site search?

  • Scope
  • Weighting (how to decide what is really relevant)
  • Presentation
  • refinement
  • Maintenance – need we say more?
  • Performance – slow response is enough to scare away users
  • Showed a nice example of their organisation of information. Started with top level of 9 items. Looks cool.

    Finally talked about inline links. Careful with using them (I agree), but make a dedicated area for pushing people to other areas (like “see also”, “users also liked”, etc.)

    Main takeaways for findability:

    1. Search is a MUST
    2. Organise your content (maybe visual)
    3. Anticipate and link

    2. Analytics

    How do you know your findability works? The answer lies in analytics. Finding patterns in your data. Measurements are numbers. Metrics puts measurements in context.

    Using metrics to answer business specific questions with limited time and resources. What do users love that I should do more of.

    Need to clearly define the goal!! Tracking the wrong metrics can be meaningless.
    AVOID VANITY STATS! Those that make you feel good.
    Measure what matters: What, why, and what. What do I want to learn? Why is this good to know and how can I find that out and how do I implement it and how do I know if it is working? what am I going to do about it.

    Ask for help if you don’t know what to do.

    Get the measures in there so you have the data ready at some point.
    True, measurements can be open to interpretation.

    Analytics takeaways

    1. Have a clear goal in mind
    2. Measure what matters
    3. Context

    3. User Testing

    Numbers can be deceptive. Asked audience if we were enjoying this and nearly everyone said yes. But then Dirk said why – was it because we liked his shirt? So he asked users in audience – give real feedback and that was far more valuable.

    Can use a feedback button.
    Can use surveys.
    Can use face-to-face meetings with real users.

    User testing takeaways:

    1. Make feedback easy
    2. Bigger picture (surveys)
    3. Watch users in action

    4. Engagement

    Would be nice with the roar of the crowds when we publish. When you get negative feedback, it is actually fantastic. I agree. Eye candy. Colours. Font size. Minimal. Different browsers and different devices.

    If you do something great – TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT!

    How about a doc-a-thon?! Get people focused even if just for one day on your content.

    Do say thank you always.

    Engagement takeaways

    1. Delivery
    2. Communication
    3. Travel (go see your users)

    During the Q&A, someone suggestion a “Doc Day” somewhat like a doc-a-thon. I have also heard of doing “Raids”, which testers often do to plow through the documentation to check for accuracy, validity, etc. Someone asked for a few examples of metrics. Number of page hits (open to debate – maybe refactor the one with 500 hits, not 5 hits), how many support tickets are related to what areas of your content (no support ticket and no one reading it – hmmm).

    What the tag? From Wiki to DITA CMS in less than 80 days

    With Barbara Szwarc, Justyna Adamczyk, Mateusz Wikto from SAP Hybris, SAP Hybris, Braintribe – Germany, Poland, Austria

    See the recording of Barbara, Justyna, and Mateusz’ talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    Why they moved:

    Mateusz told a cute love story how they got into a relationship with a system. But then they changed. Number of releases a year changed. Needs for versioning were even more crucial. Reuse became poor. Didn’t have the enterprise solution they needed. Top issues were search, broken links, separation of content and form, and manual, permission-based release process. Started to notice a collaboration tool is not a documentation tool. At least not for their product. Growth in the company wasn’t accompanied by necessary changes in their documentation processes.

    The way we moved:

    Justyna told how they moved 10,000 docs automatically thanks to scripts from their Uncle Bill. DITA belongs only to the technical writers. Had to convince the developers that the only good docs were produced by technical writers.

    Life after the move

    Log in via remote desktop.
    Add their content to the structured map. Topics, topics, everywhere. Conversion didn’t specify topics so all were topic topics! Topics were rather long. No TOCs. Random tags! Too many tags not rendered properly.
    Unclear structure, inconsistent content, problems with scrolling.
    Had initial investigate and cleanup. Divided team into committees to tackle the work.
    Introduced regular publishing interval so they could improve their docs EVERY week.
    This led to changes in mindset. Created better docs from the start.

    “Gaze upon my documentation. It is astonishing.” Barbara.
    Had to think ahead and plan the work in advance.
    Worked more at keeping developers informed. More conversations. “Draw some diagrams together – it will be fun.” 🙂

    20 people and 1 DITA expert to do this conversion.
    Remember that all this takes time. Need to change mindset of developers, too.

    Move was for selfish reasons, first, but they also solved issues for users. Thought it was merely a change of tool. Turned out to be a change of mindsets. Writing is better and more structured. Feedback was extremely positive.

    Q: Why 24 hr turnaround for deliverables. Due to a procedure to not overload server perhaps. J said it is because they don’t have dedicated servers for their output. B. said they are planning to have their own servers. Also so many builds put in the queue so it takes a while.
    An audience member said he could do it with one writer manually in 2.5 months.

    They still use Confluence as their internal tool.

    The yin-yang of technical writing. Solve your problems to the user’s advantage

    With Jarek Orłowski, Lead Information Developer, Dynatrace, Poland

    See the recording of Jarek’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    Writes application performance management (APM) docs. His company was previously named CompuWare.

    His users are analysts who check metrics and draw conclusions, dev/admins who just install machines, but don’t care about the performance, business (CTOs) who want software to work as expected and sometimes verify this by looking at the docs, support, sales/partners who perform PoCs (one customer is MoD in UK who only allow you to enter premises with a piece of paper – i.e. docs become important).

    Started out with DocBook. CompuWare bought up lots of other companies, which meant getting a new ecosystem of tech writing each time!

    Ha ha! His company moved from DITA to Confluence.

    He published 10,000 topics to Confluence daily and it killed the server.

    His stories for his presentation covers

    1. being the new kid on the block
    2. being the curator
    3. working with devs – docs as code
    4. being customer support assistant

    Being new, do you ask how should I write something, why I should write something, when I should write something, and how much I should write? You also have to deal with technology: tools, subject, (domain) knowledge, and processes.

    Being the curator means you also deal with content from others.
    I like his Death Star picture with an actual quote from a content provider who wasn’t a tech writer: “It is imperative that a full description is provided with as much detail and reasoning as possible”.

    Those who make graffiti call themselves writers.
    I like his photo of graffiti writers and their work followed by a curation of their work in an art gallery.

    Collaborative authoring:

    • The hardest step is to step back
    • Appreciate input
    • Be kind!
    • Show the difference (Nodded with neighbour Joanna at this!)

    Docs as code – Pointed out word “project” was missing

    Immerse yourself in the dev! Be a pig, don’t be a chicken.

    Points about code as docs:

    • Don’t be a chicken
    • Fail early
    • Commit
    • git not email
    • use the same tools
    • Code is information

    Customer support
    You ARE the support – solve problems before your user knows.
    Build relationships.
    Get feedback.
    Continuous improvements (on doc sets and processes)
    Communicate early.

    Listen carefully: (takeaways)

    • Know what you write
    • Be a wordsmith
    • Your skills are precious
    • Users don’t bite

    A Polish site for technical communicators:

    Quote on a photo of Kurt Vonnegut sitting on a box marked “SOAP”: “Pick a subject you care so deeply about that you’d speak on a soapbox about it.”

    Said everyone is saying that you cannot commit fully to the scrum teams.

    He’s not part of Definition of Done – only for UI text.

    “Done! Oh, wait… we need translation.” Facilitating content translation process

    With Dagmara Szostak, Project Management Specialist, GET IT Language Solutions, Poland

    See the recording of Dagmara’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    I don’t work directly with translational – I just “write for translation” – but I’d share this talk video for those who have to make decisions about translation and localisation.

    Areas where problems may arise:

    • Terminology: So important to keep consistent terminology, which is also compliant with the customer’s needs.
    • Platforms
    • Quality of the source file
    • The process

    Gave a bunch of tips.

    One example told of pain of no versioning.

    Don’t embed text in images. Don’t embed images in text.

    Advocated style guides (yay!), but had specific recommendations on a slide.

    Re: the process and the quality of the source file. Think of the flow of the documents and keep track of the versions and the quality of the files.

    Write source content so that it is easier to translate. Simplify, gender neutral, no abbreviations.

    Treat your LSP as a partner IN the process & in return you will gain a cooperative partnership & a successful outcome.

    Finding your way back from Documentation Mordor

    With Natalia Katryńska, Senior Technical Writer, Poland

    See the recording of Natalia’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    Sharing some documentation demonstrations.

    She says you need to prepare your environment, your workplace. Build a doc infrastructure.

    [This makes me think of people not following a dictated information model. How to get them back on track. They need to understand that this infrastructure isn’t there to thwart them. It is there to maintain the professional and high quality of the documentation.]

    Her takeaways

    • Talk with your teammates and get inspired
    • Start counting to 3 and automate your work
    • Test your solutions
    • Enjoy it!

    A colleague once told me, “If it can be automated, automate it”. Echoes Natalia Katryńska’s message: Automate your work.

    Always open – Open source documentation with open tools

    With Meike Chabowski, Documentation Strategist, SUSE Linux, Germany

    See the recording of Meike’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    They receive info. Then they move to Trello to evaluate, accept, and organise. (Had to get permission from their workers’ council to use it – wonder why? Possibly religiously open source?)

    The classic programmer paintings are hysterical!

    SUSE has their own style guide.

    They use git. All can contribute.


    Format with XSLT style sheets

    Their DAPS builds the doc and does validation. Would be nice to have.

    Oh! They have a style checker. Stylechecker built in-house. Checks re abbreviations, figure titles, sections, terminology, sentence length, nerdy phrases, etc.

    LibreOffice OpenOffice has a style checker.

    Problems you can solve and create with DITA

    With Patrick Bosek, Co-founder & Director of Customer Success, easyDITA, US

    Completely missed this talk due to chatting with someone long after the break prior to this session.

    See the recording of Patrick’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    Documenting microservices

    With Łukasz Górnicki, Product Owner, SAP Hybris, Poland

    See the recording of Łukasz’ talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    Been at SAP Hybris for 10 years.
    He was fascinated by the architecture of documentation more so than writing it.

    Compared microservices with a school of fish. Looks like one unit from outside, but has many replaceable units “inside”.

    Architecture: Have to build everything from scratch, otherwise you’re doing it wrong (when moving from monolith to microservices).
    Designed for the cloud.
    Most use REST API over HTTP.

    Services are independent, but documented in one portal. So developers’ challenges become yours.

    You can write microservices quickly. More are forthcoming and teams are extending. Need to scale accordingly.
    Involves continuous development and deployment which adds more demands to the documentation.

    Main principle for microservices is “You build it, you run it”, that is, eat your own dog food.

    Reasons to become a writer for microservices:

    • Ready playground and production environment
    • You really become a “technical” writer and you quickly learn things
    • Continuous release = continuous feedback = continuous improvement

    Talks about “destroying” current doc department/org.
    So TWs are real dev team members with the same manager as other team members.
    Community of Practice that works together on standards and best practices.

    (Quoted Rahel for saying that scrum teams are actually micro silos. True! Gasp.) But he says his CoP helps to bridge that problem.

    New scrum team with cool name that consists of documentation architecture, trainers, language reviews,
    New scrum team that consists of documentation architecture, developers, and works on doc solution.

    Developers start to treat writers as a team member.

    Their writers are talking “developish”. So developers begin to really like their writers.

    “We can’t release it without documentation. We need to document and talk to Q team to get a language review”

    “I don’t like how it is formatted in the UI. We need to talk to the doc team to improve it.”

    (mentioned Spotify using scaled agile)

    Technical change in theory:
    All content stored in git repos with the code.
    Documentation and release notes kept together.
    Central registry of each doc topic.
    Portal template based on static site generator.
    Continuous integration plans.

    He uses – it’s what they use as a static site generator. Has details of API documentation template for DocPad at

    No documentation strategy? Build one from scratch!

    With Tomek Prus, Documentation Manager, Unit4, Poland

    See the recording of Tomek’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    He started by just observing.

    Implementing a strategy is a long-term job. Made reference to strategy games, which he used to play before he stopped having time to do it!

    Starting point for doing this is conducting an audit. Checked for

    • Types of content
    • Internal stakeholders
    • Requirements
    • processes
    • content quality
    • effectiveness of your info model

    Checked results of audit. Resulted in among other things creating a style guide and setting up templates for consistency. Also established quality criteria.
    Nice to hear he is also part of the Definition of Done. They use Flare, too.

    They have 12 different types of docs in their old info model!
    Made new model.
    Cut out some things from translation which saves time and money.

    Pointed out four main areas of documentation to focus on in this model:

    • UI Strings / embedded user assistance
    • Online help (guide tours, examples)
    • Release notes (what’s new)
    • Reference manuals (installation, troubleshooting, configuration, system description)

    They have 2 test types: by writers and by testers. Writers mainly test that the help is available.
    Wow! They do a lot of translation and localisation!

    Built strategy pillars.

    Important that tech writer is part of team and that translation is a key enabler.

    Content must be

    • Easy to translate
    • Consistent
    • Easy to read
    • Engaging
    • Easy to find

    In “Design > Measure > Analyse > Improve > Control” implementation cycle, he emphasises communication!

    One of tips & tricks is “Documentation is a part of a product. Always.” Amen.

    Need more problems? Start localizing videos!

    With Anton Bollen, Technology Evangelist, TechSmith, Germany

    See the recording of Anton’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    Anton loves video.

    YouTube is second most popular search engine – after Google!!!

    Bigger use on social media.

    tekom survey: 38% using video.

    Video elements are visual and text and audio and cultural.
    What do you really NEED to localise to achieve your goal with the video?

    • Type of video
    • Audience and expectation
    • Content and content design
    • Resources

    Onboarding videos were so crucial that they decided to localise everything. Too important to ignore.

    Cool tip: Made audio recordings for each step in script that were possibly only a few seconds long. That made it super easy for a non-Korean speaker to synch video with audio. Cool! Very pragmatic. Fine for getting started when you have only a few languages or a few videos. It is time consuming and hard to scale. What to do? Design with localisation in mind. (More detail outside scope of this talk, but he had a couple of pointers.

    Important: de-emphasize audio narration. Reduces localisation and synch needs.

    Captions: Support many languages with a single video file. Captions can actually = more audiences with relatively little work.

    To scale up, they went for a translation partner.
    A translation partner needs info, context, and guidance.
    So they made a video style guide. They also made an enhanced script. Added more and earlier review cycles, made audio pronunciation key. This worked. All this saved about 2 days of back and forth and probably added only 1 hour extra work.

    Question: apropos numbers and what they say. what is the 38%. Is it just using videos or is there also written material?
    Videos should be short. Only meant to enhance or provide variety and not to replace text. Nice answer!

    What 1000 participants taught me about productivity

    With Piotr Nabielec, Chief Productivity Officer,, Poland

    See the recording of Piotr’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    We didn’t have smart phones 10 years ago.

    8% are systematically planning implementation of priority goals.

    4 years ago he thought doing lots of stuff meant being productive and had 13 concurrent projects. Wrong.
    2 years ago reduced to 3 projects.

    (He does still believe productivity is about having fun, too.)

    Plans one week every Sunday. Defines tasks for the week. Brains love it because you have fewer things to think about.
    2 recommendations: Asana and Todoist.

    His slide of apps doesn’t include Trello because Trello is only good on big screens.

    Cut out distractions. StayFocused app!

    How do you track progress.

    Bad if you cannot answer “what are the 3 most important things that I want to achieve next week”.

    What are the 3 most important things that you want to achieve here at soapconf?

    Think about spending your time wisely. Can’t spend time like you can spend money.

    OKR Object and Key Result

    How do we organise “near future” projects – projects are “currently running”, “near future”, “maybe someday”.

    Idea: some details.
    In Analysis: what is the goal, how do I know when I am done, how do I track progress (I skip this part, which isn’t good).
    In progress: Ready to be split into tasks and feed weekly/daily system.

    Showed Trello example. He moves 60% of the stuff that moves to analysis BACK into Idea because it’s not the right time to do it. Food for thought!!

    Gather materials for “maybe someday”.

    Tools cannot ask you why are you doing this? Or tell you that you have too much to do this week.

    Q: what to do when outside influences changes your plans.
    A: Remember that your influence is limited. Ensure that your stuff is prioritised. Then you can handle the ad hoc stuff by comparing the value of each and help you to prioritise a bit. You might not be able to handle the prioritisation because you don’t have the power, but at least you know where you stand with the things that you do have power over. (Someone from the audience also suggested the pomodoro technique.)

    Also do Retrospective every week!!!!!!!

    I really enjoyed listening to Piort at soap! 2015. This second talk was also great.

    Overcoming the Forgetting Curve: New Content Creation Paradigms

    With Oded Ilan, Chief Marketing Officer, Iridize, Israel

    See the recording of Oded’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    We forget 50% of what we learn within 1 hour of learning it! – Herman Ebbinghouse 1885.
    After one week – 70% unless we put it into practice.

    Today our world has a lot more data (i.e. a lot to remember or forget).

    The way we use the internet is changing our brains.

    Do you remember your FRIENDS’ phone numbers??!

    Using our brain differently. We find info – finding is a skill. Sifting through that info is also a skill. Recognising what you need now is also a skill!

    Stop thinking about people remembering your info.
    Start thinking about how people USE info on a daily level.

    25-30% of today’s job types didn’t exist 25 years ago.

    What’s more important: performance vs retaining.
    (My reaction is performance.)

    People want to get answers to THEIR questions RIGHT NOW.
    Provide only what is needed to hit the ground running. (Classic progressive disclosure.)
    Get what you need when you need it and not afterwards.
    Info needs to be digestible – entertaining, small bites, relevant.
    Supportive rather than instructive training. This means something that is ongoing.
    Training should be self-paced and always available.
    Metrics (He feels this is SO IMPORTANT) – measure for results and improvement. Just do this! (Diff between training and teaching – doing rather than learning.)

    Because tech has changed us, training should support the new human thought process.

    He feels contextual content is also highly important. Info available when the users need it.

    Micro sessions: small snippets of info specific to what people need and not more. Too much info? – They might stop along the way and not reach something critical at the end.

    Personalised content can be good. (Like logging in to FB in the morning and it says good morning and this is the temp.)

    Measurement and big-data generated training is another area that he has already mentioned.

    I asked a question about metrics – how to find good questions. Ask around in the company. Use intuition to start with. Do A/B testing.

    Someone asked about size for tool tips and other UI things. Think of using Twitter philosophy of just a few words.

    Useful talk – worth re-visiting in the video.

    Our content sucks, right..!?!?

    With Alan Miller, Managing Director, Simply Consulting, UK

    See the recording of Alan’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    Our content doesn’t really suck. Recognition is important to our success. Our confidence, pride, ability, and acknowledgement of our value are key. We must take back the narrative.

    Here’s the problem:
    Everyone has an opinion (like everyone has assholes).
    All the focus on what’s missing or poor. No one looks at what is successful!

    But what if it is us allowing this narrative??
    We discuss how fresh our docs are. Talk about completeness and accuracy. We discuss our technical acumen. Agree! Can’t use terms like DITA, structure, CMS, etc. outside our own little world.

    We’re just framing the discussion the wrong way.
    A challenge when you meet criticism – if it was as easy as they say, it would already be done.

    Zip up your grown-up suits!!

    Lots of talk about customers here at soap! this year. GOOD! Also measuring things about customers.

    They value credibility and knowledge about the product.

    Have the confidence to truly know what the customer needs – be prepared to hear it firsthand. Like feedback. He would call customers for whom he had fixed a content problem and said thanks and it’s fixed and was there anything else he could help them with.
    Define the customer needs simply and share it widely (with your teams/department/etc.)
    Summary: start with customer.

    You need to know what is stopping customer from purchasing goods. Then stop seeking permission to go and fix the problem. Charge out and set the example by acting on the need.
    Leadership needs leaders.

    WHO is saying that our content is crappy and difficult to change? Doesn’t help if WE say it. Get people to focus on the why – what the customer is asking about – and let them focus on the what and how. Don’t assign tasks – empower team members.

    Momentum is a virtuous circle. If you make small changes, get customer delight, get happier writers, and on it goes. Have success and share it with the people.
    Inspire team to understand what the customer needs and empower them to go achieve the outcome.
    “Shoo away the magpies” – be wary of bigwigs saying “that is dull, let’s do this – shiny, shiny”. Show them the money.

    You want to understand what is working – metrics for you – just enough science to survive.
    Whose responsibility was the success? Doesn’t matter. A win is a win! Have confidence in what is happening. Worst you can do is produce great content that isn’t adding value.

    You’re on the verge of greatness, does it sound like it? People can see what you do has an impact. Focus on progress even though it is all about outcome.
    Why are you explaining this to people? We’re explaining details and not focusing on outcome.
    Do the people you speak to deserve your time explaining things – do they deserve to be educated? Don’t get drawn into explain why things are good.

    When content providers feel pride, it is a motivator to take on the next challenge.
    Also be proud when you hear “content is improving” around you, but don’t say “I told you so”.
    Third who will understand things are great, third who don’t understand but know because you told them, third who never care.

    This lets you have freedom to operate, recognition, and (possibly) money.

    Content is becoming a commercial specialism and a strategic asset.

    More than just a technical writer

    With Maryland Sara, Information Developer, SAP Hybris, Germany

    See the recording of Maryland’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    How a tech writer can become a scrum master.

    • Expands your skillset
    • Adds value
    • Leverages existing skills
    • Gets more insight

    Study the scrum guide (and lessons “out there”)
    Connect with other SMs
    Learn by doing
    Consult other scrum teams (teaches you their best practices)

    5 out of 20 techwriters are TW/scrum masters!!!
    Their thoughts?
    Gain better understanding of a bigger picture
    Solving problems and organising things
    get an overview of what team is doing
    Build strong human relationship
    More involved in the project
    I like to help my team

    What if you are both? Benefits?
    Encourages more visibility
    Helps you to know your team
    Improves your communication skills
    Increases the quality of your product and docs

    Reducing waste in a project with conflicting needs. The story of the 33 miners

    With Adam Sanyo, Senior Information Developer, ARM, Hungary

    See the recording of Adam’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    Phase 1 create a public beta website and add some of the existing content to the site
    Phase 2 (he thinks is most interesting) improve and deliver: improve the wesbtei’s features and deliver live documents
    Phase 3 migration: migrate all existing public tech docs of ARM

    Waste reduction was also important to point out.

    1. Created a process for delivery jobs with clear reqs.
    2. Several related errors were corrected at once.
    3. Established direct link with developers and taxonomy team.

    Quality technical training – Making things happen

    With Szymon Serwatka & Gosia Pytel, Learning Manager, Dassault Systemes, Poland

    See the recording of Szymon and Gosia’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    He uses ReadyTech as the training service in the cloud.

    They were 3 people (another one in California) who got 20 people coordinated to make improvements and even add certification to their training program in just 1 year.

    Had printed & shipped PDFs. Switched to SCORM packages all online-only.
    Went from training server in a desktop to training server in the cloud.
    Went from 100% classroom to blended classroom/self-paced online learning.

    Developed great working relationships with experts.

    Q: Do they get complaints about no classroom?
    A: This offering is just one offering. They also have mentors and regular Q&A sessions. They didn’t eliminate humans from the equations. (Q&A webinars sound like a great idea!)

    Q: What did they produce?
    A: PowerPoint plus SCORM packages. No talking heads. Business reasons: cost. Just went for Minimum Viable Product.

    The Convergence of Marketing and Technical Communication

    With Stefan Gentz, Worldwide TechComm Evangelist, Adobe Systems GmbH, Germany

    See the recording of Stefan’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    Still silos about marketing and techcomms. Unconnected. Seems like it’s in the future. Talking about the future is talking about expectations.

    Techcomm is changing. People are changing as well.

    Transient attention span 12 seconds in 2000. MS study.
    In 10 years, went down to 8 seconds.
    There were attention impact factors.
    Media consumption, social media usage, tech adoption rate, multi-screening behaviour.

    60% of visitors to Adobe techcomm page only consume from mobile!!

    We need to present info on all channels. Let customer decide where they consume it.

    He showed a great example with GoPro Hero5 material. Sexy marketing stuff and awkward tech docs.

    They call it blended communication – marketing together with techcomm.

    Technical communication is marketing communication. (Yes, think about it.)

    As Jarek pointed out in his question, it’s a matter of content strategy to get marketing on board with this.

    Customer success and UX – The ultimate tag team

    With Paddy McShane, Customer Success Manager, Optimal Workshop, Ireland

    See the recording of Paddy’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    UX and customer success are the ultimate tag team.

    He is a Customer Success Manager. That title really exists! Especially SaaS companies.

    They didn’t want just users, they wanted successful users. They looked at other orgs to see what they were doing to achieve success. Looked at those with good user experience. E.g. he uses Slack and feels it works best for him so he is a successful Slack user.
    Also looked at those who weren’t successful.

    He appreciated the creation of personas from the UX team. Learned the people they were talking to weren’t customers, but researchers.
    Learned about language. Knew they were researchers so they knew how to talk to them.
    Just say it like you mean it.
    Learned his users were researchers, learned how to talk to them. Learned to be careful in the language he used, otherwise he would be found out very quickly.
    UX team helped with all this.
    “Desired outcome? That’s what you want to do? Use these features to do that…” Have to know Desired outcome so you can manage their expectations. As effectively as possibly, not necessarily as quickly as possible.
    At this point, they had info to take back to the UX team. This is what makes our researchers successful so let’s design around this. UX team could go in and cut out the fat. Kept only successful researchers.

    He likes the word/concept of friction.

    Per Axbom talks about Friction.

    Hurdles need to be removed. But Per says this friction is an opportunity to stop and think.

    Told of a company that was too fast so not trusted and believed to be inaccurate.
    Told of story of wanting to inquire about a B&B in Krakow and ended up booking it before he knew it! Too fast. No friction.

    Not everyone needs you and you don’t need everyone. How many actually use your product? No friction might get someone onboard, but then not a user and then not a successful user.

    Support – great place to get more input (user research pool) for the UX team to work with.
    Reveals what the user will experience.
    Support can have potential customers – those who are asking questions because they are close to being successful but not quite there and asking a question to get there.
    Demos reveal a lot, too. He’s a super user of their tool. He demos. If he encounters any problems, he is a rich source of info that UX team can also use for improvements.

    Use customer success principles together with UX.

    Must also know what an unsuccessful customer is. Learned this from their support team.

    He had good relationship with marketing. More trouble with sales team, actually. He has got that to change now. It’s about managing expectations and making sure all are singing from the same hymn sheet.

    Remote Collaboration for Introverted Geeks and Misanthropes

    With Brad Schmidt, Documentation Specialist, MSD, Czech Republic

    See the recording of Brad’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    When on a call or podcast, be engaged: stand up, smile, & gesture when talking on conf calls!

    Cultural awareness goes a long way. Oh yeah!

    Virtual Teambuilding is a thing. “Scavenger Hunt” is thing for getting new teams to get to know each other. “Picture This” is about collaborative resolution.

    Structure helps! Makes it easier for reserved people to share ideas, opinions.
    Identify yourself on calls to help people match your name with your voice. Use people’s names when asking questions.

    “Treat others as they want to be treated” – platinum rule!

    Being a better collaborator will change how people relate and connect with you.

    At some point, someone shared this link which is a Google search for “extroverts understand the value of introverts in the workplace”.

    How to turn local success into global failure

    With Marta Bartnicka, Manager for CEE, IBM Translation Services Center, Poland

    See the recording of Marta’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    Covers globalisation, localisation, and internationalisation.

    Why worry about translations – because of money (lost revenue, costly adaption later on).

    She showed some examples of failures and then an IKEA image as a way to avoid language altogether.

    The more global you go, the more factors you need to consider.

    She recommends a free reference: IBM Globalization Design Guidelines.

    Didn’t know that the owl was a symbol of stupidity in India.

    Great link to fun facts about names, that is, what trips up programmers about names!

    Some phrases that can trip people up: West Coast, the first day of the week, Christmas time.

    Wow! Respect to Polish postal service who managed to deliver a package sent to #%D; (which should have been the city named Łódź)!

    Wow. Real story. Phone being tested for Arabic-speaking countries. Could not offer a Hebrew version because it was regarded as offensive.

    Rethinking your content. Happifying through improved usability

    With Joanna Malicka & Tomasz Poznanski, Learning Services Project Manager, Content Designer – Motorola Solutions, Poland

    See the recording of Joanna and Tomasz’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    They are from the Learning Department (training). Critical communication for product safety.
    Transitioned from PDF to web help.

    Followed steps in design thinking.
    Talked to the users in regular conversation.
    Users didn’t like the jumps from their links or having to use several manuals to fit their imagined scenario.

    First issue was about navigation. Based on info model that was a bit old. Cross-reference links were OK at beginning when less complexity. Not now when they have over a million links.

    Had test phase where they performed A/B tests. Wanted to avoid putting old content into new wrapper.

    Gained immense value from building a prototype and testing it. They loved their prototype and thought others would like it, too, but others didn’t!

    Define > Ideate > Prototype > Test. Take notes from Test and repeat.

    Cautiously optimistic to cheerful – the range of feedback they got.
    “Webhelp is great, but where do I get the PDF?”

    Q&A: They did this on their own to get the experience rather than hire external consultants.

    Keynote: Inspiring action through content leadership

    With Kristina Mausser, President and Senior Content Strategy Consultant, Kina’ole, Canada

    See the recording of Kristina’s talk on the soap! YouTube channel.

    Definition of Kina’ole is great – a Hawai’ian word for “flawlessness”. “Doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, for the right reason, with the right feeling… the first time.”

    What happens when there is no uptake on your great idea?

    Parks Canada looks after all the great nature areas in Canada.
    Had to rethink its content culture when they went on the web. Parks in person were great experience, but how about the web.
    Small team in Ottowa managed site for entire country. But different parts had different info needs.
    Team chose to focus on content, not people. Content problems are business problems. Made policies around who can publish what. “The more policies, the less buy-in you’ll have for your ideas.” > Orgs can’t be mandated to change their corporate culture so they might end up going rogue.
    Studies show that the less control people have, the more stress they feel.
    So you stress people with these policies and you can end up having shelfware.
    (Make sure the style guide is not shelfware.)
    So focus on content wasn’t helping. Had to focus on people.

    Because content problems are people problems!! Focus on discovering internal motivations for content decisions.

    More to change than change management. Empathy is a noun, but you need a verb for action.
    She prefers empower. To make someone stronger and more confident. She likes it more because it’s a verb.

    “Content leaders who provide vision, direction & inspiration are critical to a content team’s success.”

    “We often forget importance of internal communications. It’s a fundamental component of change management.”

    A whole lot has to happen for the ta-da moments to happen. She showed slide of the pyramid of this stuff with buy-in and support at the top. Bottom row is internal communication infrastructure. Next layer is employee engagement, then change communications. All helps to build up to the ta-da moment.
    If you don’t know what your role and place are, you can’t get behind the ta-da moment.

    Content problems are Leadership problems. Means you have no comms and you are relying on ta-da moments. (77% of employees don’t undertand their responsibilities.)

    What can we do as content leaders? Focus on learning instead of lecturing. Show, don’t just tell.
    Content team members are motivated by opportunities to grow and develop. (Colleen’s survey).

    Take five ideas you get from soap! and share with your team. Gives a starting point/foundation.

    She uses customer journey maps.

    Focus on problem solving, not problem selling.
    Companies focus on product fixing, not solving. Solving goes deeper.

    Focus on ownership vs accountability.

    She likes to delegate tasks with high a-ha moments. Often to content owners because a-ha has bigger impact with them.

    Focus on Collaboration rather than teamwork.

    Create content in spite of silos, not around silos.
    Docathon is a collaboration idea.

    Develop playbook that encourages autonomy, rather than policies.

    Finally, focus on inspiration and not ideation.

    She says leadership and content are more important today than ever before.
    Content needs leadership. Great leaders set out to make a difference.

    Content is King coined in 1996 by Bill Gates.
    Had connotation of importance over power.
    But this idea has degraded over the years because we talk about content being power – power over importance.

    After this conference, it’s important that we all become content leaders.

    Storytelling with a photo walk

    Photography fascinates me as another way of telling stories. What does the photo mean to the photographer and what does it mean to the person who perceives it. The convenience of my iPhone overrides my efforts to learn how to use a “real camera”. Therefore, my photos tend to be stories of the moment shared on social media through the convenience of iPhone apps.

    My “real camera” learning comes from Wikimedia Denmark expeditions to places that need photo documentation or from a friend who says “let’s walk around somewhere and take photos”. That is what happened today, and that friend blogged about our photo adventures for your reading pleasure so that I can take the easy way out and just link to his blog post!

    After about an hour of freezing for the sake of photography, we found a warm café where we could discuss taking pictures, blogging, and the effort of sharing those photos and blog thoughts in a timely fashion. 🙂

    Here are a few of my favourite photos from today. Click the photos to go to their Flickr page, or use this link to go to my album of today’s photos.

    View of the Copenhagen harbour from the ramparts

    Black-and-white photo of the reflections of the trees on the water in the moat.

    Capturing the symmetry of the red-washed brick buildings inside Kastellet

    The Getting Things Done workshop at TCUK15

    At the TCUK15 conference this year, John Kearney and I gave a workshop covering some techniques for “Getting Things Done” as well as general productivity tips. All of this was aimed at helping our technical communicator peers get all the things done.

    Prior to the conference, we sent out some optional homework.

    1. You can start by looking at Karen’s TCUK14 slides. Note the link on the last slide that goes to a bigger reference list on her website.
    2. That brings us to the second homework item: Reading about the science behind GTD.
    3. Think about a project (or the pile of stuff you need to do) that you can bring to the workshop. Having a real-life example to work with is ideal. You can bring it on an electronic device or in a notebook or just a few sheets of paper.
    4. Consider bringing a “GTD tool” with you to the workshop. A notebook and a pen is just fine. If you are bringing an electronic device, try downloading Evernote or OneNote. Both are free and very popular to use for organising tasks. We’ll use them to demonstrate GTD principles, but it’ll be up to you to find what tool or method works best for you. After all, you are the one getting things done! By the way, if you are already using a tool that you rather like, bring it along for a show-and-tell during the workshop.

    The workshop slides are on SlideShare, which will please those of you who have asked for them. The rest of this blog post is the raw (and very long) script that we put together for structuring the workshop. It grew from our discussions and planning sessions on Skype, Google Docs, and Twitter DMs! Thank goodness for technology when two speakers live in two different countries! By the way, the script is not verbatim.

    We welcome your questions in the comments.

    Part 1 – Introductions

    Welcome to the GTD workshop for technical communicators! Note: We use GTD as the abbreviation for getting things done, but our talk is also about general productivity, not just the David Allen stuff. It’s just easier to refer to the whole thing today as GTD.


    Normally I eschew intros. Participants want substance immediately, not CVs. However, this intro tells a story. I think GTD (Getting Things Done) is a journey, a life-long path, if you will. This is the story of my journey and of John’s journey. I’ve told the story of my start on this path in my GTD presos in 2014. A chance remark from a colleague at work during a slightly hectic time with deadlines in 2013 made me realise I was losing CONTROL (remember that word) and PERSPECTIVE (remember that word). With my colleague’s help, which I fortunately had the courage to ask for, I went back to reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done book, and actually read it and started implementing its ideas.

    I also realised that the bigger picture was about my productivity. It wasn’t just GTD tips and tricks from David Allen. It was about any and every step I could take to stay in CONTROL of my work and maintain the appropriate PERSPECTIVE on my work – past, present, and future. I became more conscious of how I did my work and learned to think more about how and where I could improve my work processes. My goal was to truly enjoy my work and not reach burnout, exhaustion. To achieve or re-gain my creative skills and have fun.

    I used to brag how I could always get the job done whether I had 2 hours or 2 weeks. I’d deliver something under whatever constraints there were. I was a prof. writer, after all. Using styles and templates meant I was already a step ahead, right? I did deliver, but often by using weekends and evenings and getting drained. This began to irritate Spare-Time Karen. She wanted to read books, meet her friends, see an exhibition, but work always interrupted. Work priorities ate up spare-time priorities. And Information-Junkie Karen kept finding new things to investigate. The work/life workload was getting out of control and way out of balance.


    So, how did I get interested in this?

    I’m the kind of person who has a hyperactive mind. I like variety in my worklife, and enjoy juggling problems and commitments. The issue with that is that it’s not a very good model for working when a huge pile of work arrives on your desk, or when you volunteer for something, and so on and so forth.

    Also, I could use some discipline when it comes to getting into the things that interest me. When I’m at TCUK, my brain is on fire when I think of all the new things I’m learning and all the ideas I’m having. I love it, and it keeps drawing me back.

    The problem is that in the weeks that follow all my good intentions to blog about it, to Storify my tweets, to write up a report to share with my colleagues, all those cool things are just so hard to pin down. Why? Because I’m constantly moving on to the next thing that interests me.

    In GTD, I saw an opportunity to learn about something that could help me harness this energy. So, when Karen and I were talking about TCUK15, I suggested tentatively that perhaps we could run a workshop on this. To my delight, she jumped at the idea, and here we are.

    So from my point of view, I’m still at the “joy of discovery” stage. I know that I’m starting to have really good results with GTD, but I need to learn more. When David Allen said “We teach what we need to learn,” that really struck a chord with me. So that’s why I’m here, and I hope to learn things from this workshop too.

    Part 2 – Our first exercise

    [Based a lot on this TEDxAmsterdam 2014 video of David Allen.]

    We want to kick off this workshop and your understanding of the Getting Things Done models with a little exercise. Please hold your questions for a little while.

    David Allan talks a lot about “mind like water” in his writing and his presentations. It’s a martial arts reference, and it sounds vaguely familiar to me from other contexts. Think how water in a pond behave when you throw a pebble into it. The pebble goes plonk, ripples flow outward, and then all is still again. The same happens if you throw a big rock into the water. The water takes in the interruption and is then smooth again soon after. It’s this concept he refers to. The pebbles and rocks that approach your mind are emails, calls, plans, and much more. Can you absorb them calmly, or do you duck and run? David Allen says that having his mind in this state lets him be himself and handle whatever is thrown at him. He trusts he will be able to handle things appropriately thanks to his GTD toolkit.

    We’re going to work with ways to get you to the “mind like water” stage.

    Right now, think about something that is coming up in your future. Planning a party, planning a presentation, writing a new user manual, whatever. Think. Close your eyes if that helps and think what is uppermost in your mind. Maybe this thing is always on your mind, but it’s actually draining you – you continue to postpone working on it, and you haven’t yet taken any action on it. It’s just there and nagging you. That would mean it is driving you and you are not driving it! You are not “thinking about it appropriately so you can appropriately manage it”.

    By writing it down, you’ll soon see that you are actually a planning machine! At least your brain is. It uses what David Allen calls the natural planning model, as you’ll soon discover.

    PURPOSE: Now look at your topic, what you wrote and ask yourself: what is the main reason this exists? What is its primary PURPOSE? Write that down. You need to start out with a real purpose, a real intention that you want or need to have happen. That Christmas party needs to happen. That manual needs to be written. Why? For what purpose? Writing stuff down helps you get more ideas. You commit something to paper and free up some space in your head for more thinking. Oh, and if you wrote that your topic is writing a manual and the purpose is “because my boss told me to”, think again. We’ll get back to that. J

    VISION: The step that follows PURPOSE is VISION. What is your vision of success? Write it down. What would mean success for you? How would you describe it? The Christmas party greatly improves the poor relationships between those 3 departments. That new user manual is praised by a previously negative customer as being the best user manual they have ever come across. If you said “my boss told me to” with writing a user manual, you may be hard pressed to come up with a vision. Maybe there is a message there. Maybe you know the new user manual is not what is really needed. Maybe that is why the project has been haunting you. By thinking through the steps we are taking now, you may be able to redefine a project where appropriate. Maybe the project is really “convince boss we need embedded videos in our help”, its purpose is to finally heed the many requests you have encountered for providing videos about handling the foobar because it is too darn tricky to just write in words, and thus, your vision becomes hoards of ecstatic customers heaping praise on you (or rather, your company) on Twitter. Perhaps the second vision is that you are ask to head up a department for new types of documentation deliverables.

    IDEAS: Whatever you come up with, you mostly likely have a vision of a reality that definitely does not match your current reality. But your brain already realizes there is a discrepancy. The brain is trying to fix this by generating all kinds of potentially useful ideas. You are having a brain storm. J Ideas are popping up randomly. Now write down whatever pops into your mind now that could be potentially relevant to your project or topic – assuming that you actually want it to occur. Take a few moments to do this.

    STRUCTURE: While ideas are popping up all over the place, another part of you starts creating a structure out of those ideas. You’ll think logically, critically, rationally. You evaluate. “I should do X before I do that idea.” “This idea is more important than that idea.” You’ll figure out what are the better ideas, the more important ideas, the first things you need to do. You’ll figure this all out based on sequences and patterns that you are probably already familiar with, or priorities that you know. Right now, just choose the 3 most important things that you need to deal with – just a simple little plan from the ideas you had in the previous step. Your tendency to begin structuring means that if you are planning a party, you are thinking about which restaurant to pick and who to invite. You begin to consider which of those two things you need to do first.

    NEXT ACTION: The last step now is to figure out what the very next action should be. What must be the first step in this project? If you had to actually start this project right now, what is the very next action you need to take. It must be a physical, visible action. “Set up meeting with Bob” is not good enough. It would be “Book meeting room A in Outlook for the 25th of next month for meeting with Bob”. Write down your very next action.

    This is what David Allen calls the natural planning model.

    How many of you feel that you have gotten something done just now? That you have a definite next action or at least have used a few moments constructively thinking about a situation in your life?

    This is often a step we skip. Few of us take time to think things through like this. We should relax and trust our brains to help us out with this natural planning model.

    Unfortunately, most people do what he calls the unnatural planning model. There’s a problem at work, and the manager calls all team members together to brainstorm: who has a good idea. But that is stage 4. You don’t know what a good idea is until stage 4 and you just met! THIS is why people resist. Quite naturally. Or they “get busy” to look like they’re doing something because they don’t really know why they are doing something! There is no planning, no clarity, and trouble erupts along with pressure and stress. You end up in reactive planning mode.

    David Allen says it’s not a matter of whether you do the natural mode, but when and at what cost. Do you let everything fall apart, call in a consultant out of desperation, and then the consultant says, “What’s the thing you all have to do and why?” David Allen says we “get busy” or panic because our greatest fear is the fear of being out of control. We don’t want to make mistakes or be wrong. Has anyone ever spoken up in a big business meeting and asked “I don’t understand what this is about”? Few ever do. Most people don’t trust that they know how to plan. We are afraid to jump into anything we don’t feel like we can engage with. Fear. Anxiety. Worry. Frustration. We have got to recondition ourselves. By trying this natural planning model, you should be able to get on top of anything and get a lot more creative space and remove that pressure.

    Prioritising is also crucial. It does NOT create more time, but it adds more significance to what you need to do. What I can do today that will make the future better.

    Having good habits in place is what helps us survive the rough spots.

    Part 3 – So what is GTD?

    GTD is basically about self-management, which Google calls “management of or by oneself; the taking of responsibility for one’s own behaviour and well-being.”

    The keys to self-management according to David Allen are CONTROL and PERSPECTIVE.

    It’s about emptying your head – freeing your mind – to do all the fun stuff – or to actually get your work done. 🙂

    The concepts are for everyone, but how you apply them is up to you. Your measure of success is how YOU, not anyone else, feel each day. Today is just an intro to the concept of GTD. Your real exploration comes when you go back to your office or home.

    The natural planning model is just one level of the GTD universe. To explain more about GTD, let’s zoom into the workflow David Allen developed.

    It can take a day to get through all these steps the very first time you dive in. When you get into the rhythm, the workflow becomes a natural part of your daily routine taking only a few minutes or “happening automatically”.

    1. Gathering. Collect EVERYTHING to get things out of your head or off your desk where they are causing you stress. It’s all the stuff life is throwing at you all the time.
    2. Processing. This is using David Allen’s question “Is it actionable or not?”
      • No: eliminate (trash), incubate (someday/maybe), retrievable (reference)
      • Yes: Then what is the NEXT ACTION?

        1. Defer it
        2. Delegate it (good skill to learn)
        3. Do it. (Note: 2 min. tasks should be done immediately, but when first starting, many 2-min. tasks can add up to hours, defeating the purpose. First time? Just collect them.)

        As you process, skip nothing. Setting aside for later sets you up for more work.

    3. Now organise and prioritise. E.g. in the pile of customer visit information you’ve gathered and processed, what can you do first? When I did this, my next action was “Ask Frank who in sales can I speak to about finding the appropriate customer to visit”. All I needed to do was talk to Frank. When I had spoken to him, the next action popped up almost by itself.
    4. Now everything is ready for review. Review regularly! This is hard! It helps you always stay on top of things – which is the CONTROL part. The hard part comes from your brain continuing to keep a list in your head.
    5. When all is in place, you can begin to Do – and get things done. What you are doing includes the “next actions” from all of the above. Remember that next actions must be very specific. The key to getting things done is having next actions that are tangible, physical actions. You do not need major insight to do these things. That would take too much time. You need your time for the big things like what’s the meaning of life. Next actions should move you ahead. When you are not specific, you can flounder and have nagging thoughts about the incompleteness. Should I call, should I email, should I stop by the office or the desk? On and on. And if you cannot find a specific physical action, maybe that is a sign that something is wrong and you need to go back in the workflow to figure out why. It’s like a built-in QA test on your project.

    Look back at this list

    • Gathering
    • Processing
    • Organising
    • Reviewing
    • Doing

    and notice how CONTROL and PERSPECTIVE are present in these steps.

    Your processing and prioritisation come from knowing the purpose, vision, etc. for your projects. By mastering this workflow, you gain the necessary control for following the visions of your projects.

    Control is conscious, focused engagement, that makes you aware of all options at any one time and place.

    Perspective is being aligned and clear about decisions, directions, and priorities. It’s also the level of your focus. Are you way up at 50,000 ft thinking about the purpose, or are you down on the ground working on next actions? Or somewhere in-between at the level of the vision, projects, etc. Perspective is how you control your tasks. If you need to get more things happening in your projects, lower the level. If you are losing perspective, elevate the level. You need the right level for your tasks.

    You can work on getting the balance between control and perspective for the rest of your life, if you wish, and it doesn’t add to your “burden” of things to do. You hone and refine and learn from working on these things, and you should see improvement over time. At first, it can all seem abstract, but over time, you should find it provides a framework. This UX newsletter that I never read. Maybe I should unsubscribe because I am not working with UX right now and intend to go in this other direction? Or, I want to transition to UX because that is one of my major life projects, so perhaps I should make time for reading it regularly. And thus, you process according to your decisions.

    Technical communicators need skills to be able to adapt without losing control and getting stressed or ill from the turbulence. Try these GTD skills and other productivity skills and see whether they can be the support to get you through your work more efficiently or to help you transition to new career choices. They can help you get back on the GTD wagon when you fall off.

    • Do your 2-min. tasks when they pop up
    • Do a daily and weekly review

    Your energy should go to doing your actual tasks. Be careful that you don’t put too much energy into the administration of those tasks! Learn to let go of what isn’t really relevant and what is not your responsibility. Hanging on to things that are not your responsibility is what adds clutter to your mind.

    David Allen summed up his general philosophy in an Atlantic article: it’s to “make as few plans as you can, capture every single thing that is potentially meaningful, and make sure you’ve got the appropriate maps (or lists) to be able to know where to focus.”

    Part 4 – How does – or can – GTD apply to Techcomm?

    So how does GTD apply to Techcomm? We looked at our own lives and came up with some ideas from our own experiences.


    1. Juggling the demands of content for two applications, with two working models. For one, the developers provide much of the content, so I’m a Tech Editor. For the other, the developers know very little about the content. And the releases coincide. I’m not currently using GTD techniques for this, but it’s starting to inform my thinking when it comes to dealing with people. I’m becoming a better and more consistent communicator because of it.
    2. Dealing with helicopter bosses: when landed with a pile of work, you may know the goal, but nothing else. Instead of being paralysed with fear, or frightened into unplanned action, you can map out a GTD list and present your requirements to your boss (and others involved).
    3. Dealing with legacy issues: As a Tech Author, you will likely have complex legacy doc issues landing in your lap. It happened with me recently, when I was asked to find the original document of a PDF sent out the customers by our Support function. I started searching in quite a haphazard way, until I remembered my GTD principles. A really knotty problem became much clearer and easier to handle once I planned things out first.


    1. Gets you respect from your boss. When you start practising your new productivity/GTD skills, you boss should notice and comment positively. Mine has at my mid-year review. He sees how we can deliver. He also sees how we have the control to speak up in time if there are delays.
    2. Gets you respect from colleagues.
      • Mentioned an improved time-saving process to a remote colleague. Ended up demoing it for 1 hour to him. He has requested a demo to his entire team. Upon hearing that, my boss wants the same demo for the rest of my department.
      • Due to our improved time-saving process (I’ll mention this later), two higher-level managers have definitely gained respect for our methods. I have seen this in their eyes. I believe it will add more weight to our input in future situations. In other words, GTD is what is helping us improve our value.
    3. Can save you from imposter syndrome. (Ensure audience knows what this is: basically, you’re not good enough or not deserving of some praise.) While listening to Riona MacNamara’s talk, “Imposter No More” at the Write The Docs conference recently in Prague, I realised that GTD can help sufferers fight their symptoms. The control you gain removes the feeling of being overwhelmed. It gives you the opportunity to prove your value – even to yourself. A whacked perspective can be what triggers your imposter syndrome, and GTD gives you that perspective back. I think this is a big deal that I am happy to discuss at any time during the remainder of the conference.
    4. If some of my earlier points haven’t made it clear, your lists and processes are your work externalised. People can see these things. You can respond quickly to requests for status info and the like. You aren’t digging for that needle in the haystack because your haystack is all ship-shape. It shows people you are in control.

    So, based on what you have heard so far, and regardless of how much you know about GTD prior to this workshop, do you have ideas for how GTD can apply to techcomm?

    Break for 15 minutes

    Part 5 – Examples from real life from Karen & John

    1. I use colour-coding of my email along with some categories. Both are features of Outlook, but Gmail has labels and stars that are quite similar. I’ve gone from a black and white wall of meaningless text in my inbox to a mild colour variation – not a lot, but just enough so that I can process some mails more easily and much faster than before. Find out whether you can do something like this in your mail client.
    2. I add hashtags to my Outlook mails. Yes, you can actually edit subject lines for received emails. You can do the same to Gmail, but that requires you to make a reply or forward, say, to yourself. This is my taxonomy, or folksonomy, that helps me retrieve information when needed using keywords that are meaningful to me. The search facility in Outlook and in Gmail are so powerful, but the hashtags ensure your mail has the right keyword for a search.
    3. I often send my emails to OneNote (at work) or Evernote (at home). OneNote has a button for this and Evernote provides you with a unique mail address. In OneNote, I then store the message in a suitable folder. Examples are Flare tips, especially those that include .exe or .bat files. Less suitable to store in email. Better to store in OneNote where I can add info about the tool or tip. Having an easy way to send mails to your productivity tool is great. Oh, and I delete the copy in Outlook. No need for it.
    4. The big GTD tool in my life is being presented here at TCUK15 on Wednesday at 2.30 PM. My colleague, Mattias Sander, will explain how he set up Flare to not only be our authoring tool, but also our work management tool. Basically, we put our to-do list inside our authoring tool and I cannot express enough how awesome it is. I can see at a glance where I am on a particular project: writing stage, reviewing stage, editing stage, etc. And when I am done, I am done-done, as they say in Agile. Let Mattias explain it all if you are interested. Suffice it to say, we have a tool that truly helps us do our work and eliminates wasteful steps in the documentation workflow.
    5. Having the structure of GTD helps you if you have fallen off the wagon. It gives you a place to climb back on. It can also calm you during panic attacks.
    6. Prior to our software releases, I book review meetings for what we call domain managers. I do this 2 months or so in advance to ensure I can grab their time. This has worked successfully the last 3 releases. I think it adds to the respect we are gaining.
    7. GTD helped me plan for TCUK! I was delighted when I learned I’d get to present, but then I was terrified. It was Chris Atherton who helped me refocus using the GTD model when she asked me what the key takeaway of my presentation would be; what vision or idea did I want to share? I.e. what was my purpose and vision? The required tasks just fell out of the process naturally from there, relieving my anxiety, and making the entire process easier.
    8. Of course, it’s not just about work! I have a plan to take a holiday in New Zealand and Australia, based around the World Masters Games in Auckland in April 2017. Now, normally I might think of this event as being so far in the future that I don’t need to worry about it, and deal with occasional spikes of anxiety as I suddenly realised it was time to pay my entry fee, book my tickets, etc. With GTD, I can simply draw up my plan, deal with the things I need to now, and simply come back to the list on a regular basis.

    Part 6 – Tools and Methods

    1. Squeeze ball for reading! Helps you focus. Also, small bean-bag ball to toss in air or back-and-forth for focus. Techniques to help you stay focused when you read.
    2. Noise-cancelling headphones. Oh.Em.Gee says I. Sensitive to sound? Worth every expensive penny. Also helps with focus.
    3. Have a tool that works for you: Evernote, OneNote, Things for Mac, Remember the Milk, Todoist, Tasks in Outlook or Gmail, Paper and Pen! Note that Evernote, OneNote, and Things support GTD directly. I don’t know about others.
    4. Set up folders in your mail client or electronic notebook, or a physical file or notebook for:
      1. Next actions
      2. Waiting for
      3. Projects
      4. Someday/Maybe
      5. Reference
    5. Scan or photograph objects, sketches, whiteboard scribbles so you can save them electronically. (I also do this with receipts, guarantees.) Advantage is that you can now tag them wherever you store them. The image itself is not searchable (image, duh!) in, say, Evernote, but you add tags like #NewManual #whiteboard #TOC #Version6, and you’re set.
    6. Record or dictate ideas, rather than jotting them down on paper or electronic paper. Walking down the street, coming out of the shower? Grab your phone and record for later transcription, or dictate with e.g. dictate feature in iPhone. It’s about emptying your head ASAP!
    7. “Clip” things from the web: links, quotes, articles, but do it consistently so you remember where to find them – and then tag them. Evernote and OneNote have clipping tools for your desktop or browser. There are others out there. It’s crucial to maintain the source of your clipping, too.
    8. Use a little paper notebook. I mention this specifically because David Allen made an interesting point in the Atlantic article that I agree with. Digital risks being out of sight and out of mind. You don’t see the pile of stuff you need to do, and you can overlook things. You need discipline to check your electronic devices for your work to ensure nothing goes bad. And it can be awfully nice to have luscious paper and a gorgeous pen to work with. Also, you don’t need to worry about batteries. 🙂
    9. Make lists to organise by context – called siloing. Some say it’s great, but it takes getting used to. These lists don’t replace project plans, but help track your next actions without the need to dig through each project to find a note to “call Frank”. Typical GTD thing to do in notebook, Evernote, OneNote, wherever. David Allen recommends these as starters:

      1. Agendas
      2. Anywhere
      3. Calls
      4. Computer
      5. Errands
      6. Home
      7. Office
      8. Waiting for
      9. Someday Maybe
      10. Projects

      Instead of putting a note on the calendar to call the plumber (which I often do), you add it to your call list. Then, when you have time to make phone calls, you call the plumber, order theater tickets, book dentist appointment in the same workflow. Add note to bring up financing your TCUK15 trip with boss to your agenda list. I find errands to be handy for those non-milk-and-eggs purchases. If you heard about a new tea shop or office supply shop, put them on the errands list and you might finally remember them next time you are out shopping. If you use this structure, use it diligently, and you will remember to check it each time you get home, get to the office, have a moment to make calls, go shopping, go to meetings.

    10. The terror of unstructured time! In my experience, one of the hardest things to do is to deal with a large amount of time when you have a long lists of tasks or jobs. You can end up cherrypicking easy tasks, or worse you can get distracted and end up leaving things until the last minute. I’ve found the twenty-minute trick to work really well here, at home and at work: I set a timer on my phone, or perhaps put on a podcast or a selection of music I know lasts around twenty minutes, and then I focus on burning through a task or small group of tasks in that time. This really focuses the mind, gives you that impending deadline feeling! And between periods, you can stretch, make a cuppa, check email, before starting again. If I do this at work, I definitely go home with a feeling of genuine accomplishment.

    Part 7 – Hands-on – Go get things done

    Now it’s your turn for the next 45 minutes. You don’t have the luxury of doing this where it really matters – at your desk or wherever you need to get things done. However, we hope you have a clear idea in your head of where you need to start work. If you brought material with you on a laptop, or just want to use paper and pen, great.

    Think about the points we’ve made here and see what you can do to improve productivity in your life and get more things done. Call on us if you want some input. Bathroom breaks as needed during this time.

    Work on your own, if you prefer, or work with others.

    After 45 minutes, we’ll encourage you to share some of your ideas. You are welcome to just continue working, but if you discovered something on your own or after talking with others, we’d love to have you share your discovery with the whole group.

    Part 8 – Sharing

    Sharing is really crucial to learning even more about GTD. You will do your own thing, but when you share ideas, you inspire others and get inspiration for yourself.

    Part 9 – What’s next?

    We’ve been gathering, processing, organising, prioritising. Now we get to “do”. What are we going to do next? What is YOUR next action after this workshop?

    You could practise on the conference itself:

    1. Blog about TCUK15 by a certain date.
    2. Write a single-author or multi-author article for Communicator! in one year’s time about how gaining control of your work, while maintaining your perspective has helped with a career change, job promotion, job hunt, etc.
    3. Make some new knowledge gained here at TCUK15 the focus of a project where you will apply GTD to master the skills for your job.

    Or you could apply GTD to another sphere:

    1. Plan your next project.
    2. Sort your backlog of work.
    3. Plan a foreign trip!

    Additional references with notes from our workshop preparation