XML Metrics are the Coldplay of the Tech Comm World

Coldplay2Besides the panel at the 2013 STC Summit Adobe Day, there were four speakers at the event. I decided to review them in reverse order as to when they appeared on the roster. Why? Because it’s my blog, and that’s what I chose to do. ;-)

To continue with the Adobe Day Coachella and rock star analogy, each of the speaker had a different spirit that came through each presentation.

When I thought about this person’s presentation, I thought of quiet impact. Who in the rock world is a fairly big influence on the music scene, does dozens of concerts, and yet is very low-key in the process?

While I will admit that I haven’t met Mark Lewis face-to-face or had any conversations or chats with him, I’ve seen him twice now, and he strikes me as the Chris Martin of Coldplay of the Tech Comm rock stars. He strikes me as a quiet, yet intellectual fellow, who is a rock star of epic proportions, letting his work do most of the talking for him. Like Chris Martin, he’s not afraid of being in front of big crowds to share his findings, but he doesn’t strike me as one who is looking for the limelight. He just is ahead of the curve with his craft, and by sharing it with us, we are all more enlightened.

MarkLewis

Mark Lewis
The Chris Martin of Tech Comm

In Mark’s case, his craft is finding a better way to find metrics in technical communications by using XML statistics. Mark has recently published a book called, XML Metrics 101, published by The Rockley Group, which outlines his study and methodology to use XML statistics to better show ROI in technical communications in comparison to traditional metrics.  Mark stated that a lot of research went into compiling the information presented in the book, including many spreadsheets, and his book offers information about how to jump-start corporate justification of using these metrics.

His talk began with an explanation of how traditional metrics were measured. In traditional metric measurements, step-by-step procedures, glossary terms and definitions, reference topics, Windows descriptions and other field descriptions were analyzed. All of these factors were measured to determine the cost of a project. The problem with this method was that there was no reuse of content being used. The measure of the author of the team was based on pages per month, by publication, or per output per month. More was seen as better, but again, there was no reuse.

When Mark described that, it reminded me of something I had heard or read somewhere in my travels that author Charles Dickens was paid by the word when he wrote his novels, such as David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, or A Christmas Carol.  Imagine if he tried to write those books based on those terms now!

There’s a need to find a metric method that would demonstrate project success based on XML and content reuse.  There are several similar products out there that help with writing with the reuse factor, and it’s that reuse that comes into play.

Mark showed us how he came up with his statistical work to make these determinations that show return on investment (ROI) by measuring documentation based on XML and content reuse. He explained that the content components are more granular, so it’s based on component levels. The perceived value of documentation is shown as a percentage of the cost of the product. He warned that one needs to be careful of “metrics in isolation,” by looking at such things as productivity metrics, as they also can play a part in such measurements.

Mark continued to say that in order to defeat the death of content, you need a weapon; metrics can be that weapon, but you have to figure out the right one for you. You need to base your use of that “weapon” on what information you need to get the job done, and the instances where different communications roles intersect well. For example, the metrics from the content development lifecycle for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and engineers could also be added into the equation.

Mark provided a handout which showed an example of how to support a business plan using these metrics with the example of using corporate goals. Common corporate goals often entail reducing costs, processing improvement, creating automation, and mitigating risk. Using the XML metrics that he’s suggesting, Mark says there will be a reduced time to market with reuse as compared to using content without reuse.

Mark pointed out that in DITA, you can measure documentation by topic or by topic type.  XML-based metrics can help to determine the cost of a DITA task topic, including the number of occurrences.  An average time frame for a documentation procedure by traditional measuring methods would be about four to five hours. By taking advantage of reuse of content, that time frame is reduced dramatically, but the savings go up. It also helps businesses understand  how pages are being viewed. For example, if there are seven page views, does that mean it was seven tries to get information, or one try plus looking at six more pages to find information?

Mark had given a similar presentation at Adobe Day at Lavacon back in the Fall of 2012, and I can see why Adobe invited him back to give his presentation again. It seems that a big theme that I continually hear about in the tech comm world in the idea of reuse of content to help with the ROI, and in these economic times, that’s understandable, and fairly common. In other words, in many companies, technical communicators have to prove in a substantial way that we can provide “more bang for the buck” with fewer resources.  Mark’s information is a clear-cut, no-nonsense way of showing–with mathematical proof, no less–how the value of technical communication delivers in business, more than any other departments in a corporation. This is a message that needs to be delivered several times until companies get the message, and Mark has armed us with substantial proof.

I want to thank Rahel Bailie and Maxwell Hoffmann for also taking Twitter notes during this session along with me, as I used some of their Tweets along with mine as reference. This was especially important because in the middle of Mark’s presentation, my Twitter account died and kept kicking me out! I was having a very hard time keeping up while trying to recover my Tweet-ability! So thanks to both of them for helping also taking notes simultaneously, so I didn’t lose too much ground.

And as always–Mark, if you have anything to add or correct, please feel free to comment below!

Stay tuned…I’ll be revisiting John Daigle’s Adobe Day talk about mobile documentation next!

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