How tekom crowdsources conference programming

The German tech comm association tekom has found an innovative way to involve its members in conference programming: They invited 15 tech comm practitioners for a workshop on 25 July to discuss the status quo of software documentation with best practices and challenges. The collected issues and topics will go into the “Software Documentation Forum”, a 1-day stream with 7 sessions at this year’s tekom conference in October. (I was lucky enough to participate, and I blog on my own account; tekom’s view and position may differ.)

The event was by invite which helped to ensure that a wide variety of technical communicators were present, from the software departments of industrial companies (whose employees make up the majority of tekom’s membership) to pure software companies, from small companies with a lone writer to very large corporations which have hundreds of technical communicators worldwide.

Common challenges

The workshop started with a short round of introductions, followed by a round of 10-minute presentations where participants addressed these issues:

  • Specific demands on software documentation in your company
  • Best practices that have proven successful
  • Current technological, organizational and economic challenges
  • The future of software documentation in your opinion
  • How do you improve the value of software documentation in your company
  • How can tekom help to improve the value of software documentation

As the presentations proceeded, common topics emerged. For example, several participants face the need to keep tech comm effective, efficient and consistent as processes become globalized. Some work in teams that are distributed across several countries. Others have writers far away from developers and engineers. Others reported difficulties to find writers with sufficient language skills.

In my opinion, the variety of participants was an advantage. Our backgrounds are different enough to represent a well-rounded spectrum of issues and practices. Yet we are similar enough so our experiences resonate with at least some of the other participants. One participant even uses the software of another participant – and had a few comments about its documentation…

Joint programming

After lunch, we went into solution mode to see how tekom can support software technical communicators – and specifically which sessions at the tekom conference in October can address the issues and challenges we raised.

Here are some of the issues we’ve collected that we would want to see at tekom. Much of this is still pending and depends on whether tekom can find people to speak or discuss the issues, so there might be all kinds of changes before the following hits the official conference program:

  • How tech comm processes change when you move from a waterfall process model to agile processes
  • Integrating tech comm with GUI design for a better user experience (a similar issue appeared as “progressive disclosure” in a talk at the STC Summit in Chicago)
  • When to apply DITA and when not to
  • Norms and legal regulations in software documentation
  • How globalization affects tech comm processes and quality

Crowdsourcing benefits

I think the workshop was a great success thanks to its good preparation and well-defined goals. And I think it will turn into a worthwhile series of sessions at the conference.

For me personally, it was very good to connect and network with the German software tech comm professionals, with lots of exchanges and networking. I even felt some of the excitement and buzz that I get at actual conferences. So I think we have good reasons to look forward to tekom12. 🙂