From tech writing to information experience team at Write the Docs NA 2016

This week I’m attending Write the Docs NA 2016. The final talk of the conference was by Daniel Stevens, titled “Atlassian: My Information Experience Adventure”. These are my notes from the session. All credit goes to Daniel, and any mistakes are mine.

Summarising the theme of Daniel‘s session:

The process of creating and growing a writing culture which is technically accurate, writes with a human voice, and connects to every other part of the information experience.

Moving from QA to design

Dan talked about the Atlassian tech writing team’s transition from the QA team to the design team, and how this changed everything they knew about technical writing. Shortly after Daniel joined Atlassian, the team started a conversation about tech writing – what it meant to them, what makes it work.

They built a culture where information is considered an essential part of the experience. Daniel emphasises that they’ve only just started, and there’s still a lot to do. The team has expanded to include researchers, developers and designers, sharing skills and learning from each other.

There have been some frustrations. Change is hard. Adopting new ways of thinking is difficult. It can be hard to stay focused on writing great docs, especially now that the tech writers are part of the design team. And it’s become more complex to define the “team”.

The goal is that everyone tells the same story and thus delivers an amazing information experience. The information should come at the right time, in the right place.

Overcoming resistance to change

Dan gave some ideas about how to manage change. The key is to stage the changes, so that people can adjust. Constantly remind people of the value of what you’re doing. Enhance the strengths of every team member, so that they don’t feel that they can’t do what’s being asked of them. Encourage everyone to participate.

And give them all cake!

Making Confluence behave

Design helped the team rethink the way they were doing things. They re-designed the layout of Confluence wiki pages used for documentation, with more white space, better structure. The team uses the Scroll Viewport plugin to implement the design changes. They work with plugin developers, finding and adapting tools to make Confluence do what they need. And the team works with the developers to add new features to the wiki.

What IX (information experience) means to Dan

It’s about a new way of thinking about the information experience. Gather information so you know ahead of time what you need in the docs. Use analytics to gather data and understand what the users are using and how they’re getting from one part of the docs to another.

Work with a content strategist to define the brief – the elements that make great documentation. Use this brief to set direction. Dan also emphasised that we’re all content strategists.

Measure the results of any change – make everything measurable.

Work like designers: card sorting, sparring. Dan described how they hold a live meeting with teams across the world, using Confluence. Then they spar: everyone mentioning one thing they like, one they don’t like, and sparring with each other.

Connect stories: linking from tutorials to blog posts, and back, so that when customers see any information about any product of Atlassian’s, they feel at home. To achieve this, you need to work with every other team: marketing teams, various IX teams, product teams, design teams, engineering teams.

What’s next?

The Atlassian IX team wants to influence “all the things”.

They’ve created an IX toolkit which everyone can use. It includes design guides, content guides, voice and tone, all shared with the entire company. The IX team has contributed to the ADG (the Atlassian Design Guidelines). This year, IX was part of Atlassian’s internal design confluence, and gave one third of the presentations.

Dan’s enthusiasm shone through in this talk. Thanks Dan!

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 25 May 2016, in technical writing, Write the Docs and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Dan is a pleasure to work with, and his enthusiasm rubs off on everyone he meets. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about his talk!

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