Need to reboot your content creation strategy? Start with "No"

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Learn how the Windows 8 team determined their content strategy, and the principles they adopted to maximize their content resources.


  • 1. Need to Reboot Your Content Creation Strategy? Start with "No" Keith Boyd Microsoft Corporation
  • 2. About me 14 years at Microsoft, all in technical content. 12 years in management. 2000-2013 Windows writer and manager 2013-present Principal Director, Content Services and International (CSI) in the Cloud & Enterprise division (Azure, Visual Studio, .NET) Team owns roughly 10 million content assets as well as the MSDN print and online magazine. Past-president, Western WA University Alumni Association. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 3. Staffing vs. platform growth XP Vista Windows 7 Windows 8/8.1 With each release of Windows, the dev platform grew in size-- most dramatically during Windows Vista and Windows 8 development 400 300 200 100 0 500 Programming-Writer population at Microsoft XP Vista Windows 7 Windows 8 Windows 10 while staffing actually *decreased*, somewhat dramatically (values are approximate). Thousands of topics Millions of topics @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 4. Why did staffing shift so dramatically? Before 2005 there were very few sites detailing how to build Windows apps, services, or drivers. As market forces changed, the balance of personnel investment also changed. Technical communicators failed to consistently demonstrate their value relative to other disciplines. Microsoft didnt need scribes, it needed SMEs. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 5. Content innovation vs. fundamentals High $$ Too expensive to be practical for most teams Untenable no team would accept results at this level Innovation Low High Fundamentals Most content teams at Microsoft fell somewhere on the red line, generally doing neither fundamentals or innovation well. No wonder staffing suffered. What to do? @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 6. Win8: four principles In order to maximize resources and deliver greater value, we adopted four principles: 1.Less is more 2.Code first 3.Embrace a modern voice and tone 4.Be data driven @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 7. PRINCIPLE: LESS IS MORE Too much content obfuscates and dilutes the important stuff
  • 8. The painful truth 3 primary reasons people come to MSDN: 1. To get the bits, or to provision an account. 2. To Get Started quickly with a product or service. 3. To get help when theyre stuck. Almost no one *wants* to read the content that my team produces. And absolutely no one wants to read a 2000 word conceptual overview when theyre in the middle of coding (much less a 100 page whitepaper!) @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 9. Minimally viable content Historically, we tried to anticipate everything a dev might need, and produced it. That lead to bloat, since content was created speculatively; not based on articulated customer need. Ironically, right when we started to learn about how customers were actually using our products, we shifted attention to the next version, and began the speculative cycle all over again. For Windows 8, we built minimally viable content for use on day 1, then paid closer attention to how customers actually used our content so we could flesh it out later. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 10. What is minimally viable content for the dev audience? It covers all the basics: What the product is, and why youd want it. How to acquire it. How to get started, quickly. API reference, at baseline standards of quality. Code samples for key APIs (not necessarily every API). Breadth information about the features that comprise the product or service. What its not: A compendium of every imaginable scenario associated with the product. An exhaustive, inclusive reference section with deep details. Comprehensive guidance detailing every feature in the product or service. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 11. vNow vs. vNext Adopting a minimally viable approach lets your team support users on current products/services better, while still building a viable doc set for day 1 vNow Keeping these forces in balance is critical to our content strategy after all, its the current version of the platform or service that actually pays the bills. vNext @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 12. Reimagining capacity planning With Windows 8, we centralized content planning. We did this because Not all features or scenarios are created equal. Not all writers (or leads!) are as good at evaluating the relative value of investing in one area against another. Nearly all writers said yes when negotiating with their feature teams (the scribe mentality). By doing this, we started every milestone assuming that new content didnt meet the bar for inclusion (No!). Then we let the writer or scenario owner talk the leadership team into it. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 13. Deliberate collaboration Well defined roles helped us work together more effectively to create better content experiences across the customers journey. Data/BI Content Engineering Content Experience Developer Evangelism & Support Content Team Product Marketing Site Management Key scenarios; campaigns; premium content; SEM Scenario flows; content discoverability (SEO); metrics; project management; presentation; organization Content goals, plans and scenarios; execution; IA Product Team Customer advocacy; user stories; competitive insights @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 14. Enabling customer contribution Content teams at MS have been reluctant to embrace a more open content platform. But times are changing: Resourcing constraints are forcing our hand. In the real world, software and content are built side-by-side, in collaborative fashion (think GITHub). Devs know more about their code than writers. In response, multiple initiatives incent customer participation in content: Curah! curation platform. Soon: Collaborative documentation and better 1st and 3rd party community integration. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 15. PRINCIPLE: CODE FIRST (EMPATHY SECOND) When a developer is stuck, they dont want to read, they want code.
  • 16. (Re)Building customer empathy The leadership team recognized that the longer someone worked at Microsoft, the less customer empathy they exhibited. There are a number of reasons for that: Not enough hours in the day to continue to dabble with the technology. Passion gets extinguished its just a job. Loss of perspective due to assimilation into the Microsoft culture. We gave writers so much to do that the skills and attributes that made them such great hires in the first place slowly withered away! How could we rekindle their passion? @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 17. Embracing code first Answer: write code. 25% of a writers total capacity was reserved so they would: Gain firsthand knowledge of the platform, from the developers perspective. Write more code snippets, which improved the underlying reference content. Spend more time in small development teams building end-to-end samples and solutions (real world development) Test our content when they were coding and got stuck, the rule was they had to use our docs. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 18. Benefits of Code first A happier and more productive team. Writing code is fun! More complete and accurate documentation. Bugs were filed when we found omissions or errors. Deeper customer empathy. We developed unique insights of value to peer teams. Additional end-to-end and feature level samples. This raised our profile among the other engineering teams and executives. Better content. We knew firsthand what content devs needed to be successful, because we had walked a mile in their shoes. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 19. PRINCIPLE: MODERN VOICE AND TONE Acknowledge when things are hard, and engage your customers in a more humane, straightforward, and empathetic way.
  • 20. Plain English please!!!! Plain English instead of jargon from logic or math or whatever that is write it in plain English and tell me why the copy function does not work in this situation your language of explaining is very difficult to understand in I plain am a business english!!!! analyst on an IT team, and Im Plain English would be great speak plain English offended as by were how not all geeks. Try plain English and only give me unfriendly the information your help is. I request. I need plain English with simple examples!!! Plain English please. Plain English so us non comp literates can understand. It was so over my head.geesh guys. Make it Plain English. Tell me in plain @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 21. The Tao of Microsoft Modern voice Youre trying to take something that can be described in many, many sentences and pages of prose, but you can convert it into a couple lines of poetry and you still get the essence. Satya Nadella Microsoft CEO @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 22. Voice principles Customer Intent. What are they really trying to do? Focus on the intent. Make the most common task ridiculously easy to find. Easy to scan. Use formatting, art, headers, etc. to help readers find what they are looking for. Write concisely. Try to cut the length by half. Word choice. Use everyday words. Use technical words when theyre the right words. Read aloud. Give it a natural, efficient voice. Empathy. Acknowledge the readers situation. SEO: Assume theyre coming from search. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 23. Voice example From this: Traditionally, many web developers have used browser detection in an attempt to provide a consistent experience between browsers. The typical implementation performs a single comparison operation, usually involving the user-agent string, and then makes several design assumptions about the features supported by that browser. In practice, however, feature detection has proven to be a more effective technique that requires less maintenance. This article shows how to use feature detection to verify support for standards-based features and demonstrates different ways to detect features effectively. (83 words) To this: Many web developers use browser detection to determine whats supported in a given browser. However, feature detection has proven to be more effective and requires less maintenance. Lets look at this in more detail, including how to detect features effectively. (40 words) @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 24. Destroy. All. Robot. Language. before|after modify change perform do attempt try terminate end navigate go image picture toggle switch obtain get configure set up execute run resolve fix enable allow halt stop value number Use simple words Copyright 2014 Microsoft Corporation. Do not reproduce without permission. @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 25. Before/After Sidebar: Who knew that Steve Ballmer actually aspired to technical communications? @Keith_Boyd #LavaCon
  • 26. PRINCIPLE: BE DATA DRIVEN Theres only so much quality content we can produce. Produce the right resources; not everything you can think of.
  • 27. API Documentation at Microsoft API (Application Programming Interface) reference documentation represents 80+% of the content produced and maintained by my team. Why? Corporate and regulatory regimes designed to enable interoperability. 30 years of Windows,...