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People, Processes, and Change

Change management issues in implementing a reuse strategy

Steve Manning
The Rockley Group

The success of implementing a reuse strategy depends on many factors, not least of which is the effectiveness of your change management process. To be clear, in this context change management does not refer to the modifications to content, but instead how changes to the workplace are introduced to and rolled out to the writers.

There are many reasons why projects fail. Often, the issues are more human-related and less technology or project-related. They can include:

  • Resistance to change
  • Lack of a champion
  • Lack of core competencies
  • Lack of communication
  • Failure to involve others

The success of implementing a reuse strategy depends on many factors, not least of which is the effectiveness of your change management process. Change can be difficult for people. A move from a traditional style of authoring, where authors have control to create and recreate information at will, to one with a focus on creating reusable content can be difficult. You will need an effective change management plan to help writers make the change.

The scope of change

To understand potential difficulties for authors, it is important to consider the ways in which their job will change when moving to a reuse strategy.

Authoring tools

One of the key changes to impact the writers is a change in tools. While reuse can be done using traditional word processing tools, for complex reuse companies are turning to XML. A move to XML usually (but not always) means a change in tools. (For FrameMaker users, it might mean a change from standard FrameMaker to structured FrameMaker.

There is real fear that writers will resist a move to new tools, as noted in this comment from Mark Baker:

Everyone has heard (or experienced) stories of CMS or knowledge management initiatives that did not work because content contributors refused to use the tools deployed or were unwilling or unable to supply content in the format required. The conclusion often reached is that writers cannot give up their WYSIWYG tools and that any attempt to make them do so is doomed to failure. [1]

The fear here is that writers have become so used to the power and the freedom of the word processing and desktop publishing tools that they will resist the move to tools that restrict those freedoms.


There are two important ways in which processes are directly affected by a move to reuse. First, reuse will not occur unless a writer's first step is to search the content database for reusable content. As one IT person at a company researching reuse strategies put it, "we are potentially turning writers into something more like researchers." For strategies with opportunistic reuse, that is a potential change. It is less likely, of course, where systematic reuse is employed. Writers must be motivated to find and reuse content, rather than recreating it.

Second, a reuse strategy means that content must be written as structured, standalone content. Structured because it must be predictable. For example, you might need to be sure that all procedures have an introductory paragraph. Without predictability, you risk compromises in consistency and quality. The content must be standalone, as you cannot always know exactly where a chunk of content may be used and so you must eliminate any dependencies on other content that may or may not be used at the same time.


One of the key differences that writers may face in a move to a reuse strategy is a change in their personal deliverables. In the past, many of us looked forward to the boxes arriving back from the printer, so we could wave a copy of our guide for colleagues to see. Many of us got a lot of job satisfaction from being able to point to a specific book or file and say "that's the one I did." A move to reusable content means that more authors might have to share the writing credit. (It goes from being "my" book to "our" book.)

What you need to do

There are a number of things that you can do in your change management plan to help ensure that your reuse project is a success.

Sell the benefits

People are unwilling to change unless there is a very good reason for that change and they can see the benefits.

Writers in technical documentation are facing a productivity crisis because of shortened product cycles, increasing customization of both products and content, and, of course, ubiquitous headcount reductions. The ability to create each piece of information once and to maintain it in one place -- then create many different information products for different products, markets, users, and media from that single source -- can provide a huge productivity boost to writers. [2]

The benefits for authors can include things like:

  • Less stress at deadlines
  • Faster turnaround times and so more time
  • Better tools
  • More flexibility to deliver new information products

Communicate the issues

Identifying the benefits is important, but you must also put the changes in context. That means first identifying the pain, issues, and consequences. What are the real issues facing your organization? What is the impact of not addressing these issues? For example, on one project, a client indicated that if they couldn't produce content faster, there was a real risk that the company would outsource the documentation effort.

Reach out and listen

Listen to what people have to say about the issues and the solutions. If you involve people early on, really listen to what they have to say, then show them that you are addressing their requirements, they will be among your strongest supporters.

Elicit the help of "change agents"

The best way to convince people of a change is to have "one of their own" communicate the excitement and possibilities. A change agent is someone who is not necessarily part of the assigned implementation team, but who will be a user of the new system and methodologies. Make sure that you help the change agents to prepare a consistent message to take back to their team. A consistent message reduces possible misinterpretations.

Get a champion

A champion (someone high enough up in the organization to effect change) needs to endorse the cause and ensure that different content areas understand the need for change and buy into it. The champion may have to insist on them adopting the change or make a change in personnel to facilitate adoption.

Anticipate resistance

You will need to anticipate the resistance that you might get and be able to respond. Some of the common issues for authors include:

  • Not invented here
  • We do it differently
  • Loss of creativity
  • There are benefits, but this is too much work
  • If fewer people can do more, I may lose my job

Get the right tools

Make sure that the tools you select are right for the authors and not just the right technology. XML editors come in all shapes and sizes. If you are moving to XML, purchase authoring tools that will provide the right functionality for the authors.


[1][2] Structured Content: What's in it for Writers?, CMS Watch,,-XML,-and-CMS

Copyright 2005, The Rockley Group, Inc.