The Lion and the Lamb
Written by Gershon Joseph on 21 Feb 2019
Lion and lamb under a tree
Humorist Josh Billings wrote, "The lion and the lamb may possibly sometimes lie down together; but if you'll notice carefully, when the lion gets up, the lamb is generally missing."

This quote came to mind several years ago, when I suggested that my client, manager of the content development teams at a Fortune 500 enterprise, share content between their Technical Publications and Instructional Designer teams. She was nervous, but went along with the idea and the following week brought the teams together to meet with me.

The first meeting was interesting... While socialising around the coffee machine waiting for everyone to arrive, I was surrounded by technical writers explaining why my idea would never work for that particular company. Ten minutes later, I received the same treatment as I was introduced to members of the Instructional Designer team. I just listened, smiled and suggested we dig deeper into their concerns once everybody arrived.

Following a brief introduction by the manager of the teams, I delivered my presentation. I had done my homework, and my description of the challenges and opportunities resonated well with my audience. There was unanimous agreement that I had captured the situation clearly and comprehensively. Then I delivered my proposal: as part of the move to DITA XML and single-sourcing, further optimisation could be achieved by sharing content across product documentation and training content. I sat back and watched as the technical writers and instructional designers argued over what was possible and what wasn't. While the technical writers were open to the idea and saw benefits, the instructional designers pushed back hard, insisting training content requires a totally different approach and there was no way on earth they could share any content with the product documentation team. I asked them to think about it for a week, and set up a follow-up meeting the next week.

When I returned a week later, I discovered the two teams had not only thought about it, they had even started talking to each other trying to identify opportunities for reuse. The instructional designers however were not completely sold yet. They agreed that conceptual topics could be shared, but not tasks. "Why not?" I asked. "Because training tasks have values, they are real-world examples, whereas the manuals have abstract tasks without any values. Their tasks won't work for us!" I asked the technical writers whether they could start using values in their tasks, since it would actually make them more understandable. The teams requested another week to figure the tasks out.

Another week later, and the two teams had the tasks and references figured out as well. The savings were exponential, due to the fact they had a range of products that shared many features, as well as a need to localise to multiple languages. Thanks to the high level of reuse attained, my client realised return on their investment for the entire project after the second release that used the new system. Indeed the lion and the lamb lay down together, but neither one went missing because they worked together to realise a future they both thought was impossible to achieve.

Gershon Joseph

Gershon Joseph helps Product Information leaders reduce the cost and time of information creation while increasing information quality. He is an expert at helping Product Information teams and professionals massively up their productivity to deliver more, higher quality content in less time by optimising their organisations and adopting modern single-sourcing methodologies, technologies and best practices.
If you're interested in solving your Product Information challenges, reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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