Published in TDAN.com January 2002
The people who populate your document process help point the way for your document strategy.
Documents are the one single thing that can stop business cold yet no one is in charge. While many organizations have a “chief technology officer,” few have a “chief document officer.” Without
this centralized responsibility, how can you design a meaningful document strategy? Who are the people that you need to buy in to the idea? How can you “sell” your strategy and gain the support
and sponsorship you need to be successful?
For any document it is possible to identify a “document constituency” – the people who influence the document process: authors, producers, stakeholders and readers. Collectively, these people are
in charge. Since we create documents to be used by people, it stands to reason that the people who create, use and care about your documents are the best people to provide the finer points of
navigation within your strategy. Who can better describe which documents are important, how they are used, how they perform and how things could be better?
Each member of your document constituency has an important involvement with your document process, so their needs, difficulties, constraints and requirements are important directional pointers for
your strategy. Your constituents have a personal stake in how each document performs and will likely be the targets of whatever changes you propose. You will need their support and cooperation if
your document strategy has any hope to succeed.
“The fact is that a great many people need to work together to get this thing off the ground, let alone land it safely,” says document design expert Dr. Michael Turton. “Their paths may not have
crossed thus far, but each will certainly approach the subject from different angles and their objectives will be different, possibly conflicting with those of others.” Turton suggests that
understanding who to get involved in strategy design, before any decisions are made, is the “single most important aspect of the whole document strategy process.”
The Document Constituency
The people who make up your document constituency are the people who use your documents, have responsibility for their existence and have a stake in how well they perform. Chances are, you already
know many of the people who make up your document constituency. But there may be other people whose membership is not immediately apparent. As you learn more about your critical documents and the
technology that is used to produce them, the members of your document constituency become easier to spot. Some of the people will come easily to mind because they have already accepted ownership of
a document or have a long history managing part of the process. Others may be less ready to accept accountability or are simply unaware that they have anything to do with a “document process.”
Nonetheless, the people who create, produce and care about your documents will have, at different times, differing concerns, goals and interests. To be successful, you will need to search out these
people and include their needs and concerns in the design of your strategy.
You can identify members of your document constituency by using these four categories:
- Authors – the writers, composers and content providers, both intentional and implied.
- Producers – the creators, producers and processors of your documents.
- Stakeholders – the people who have a stake in your documents performance.
- Readers – the people who use, read, and react to your documents.
Each of these people has a different set of needs, expectations and constraints. Authors have specific objectives about a document’s content, for example, that may, or may not, coincide with the
needs and expectations of the reader. Producers have pressures and constraints that must often be overcome in order to meet the expectations of stakeholders who have a broader interest in how
documents communicate and carry on business.
In addition, the activities and requirements of the people within your constituency will influence and determine both the message of your documents and the medium used to deliver them. They
influence what a document says, the information it contains, its format and construction, and whether it is presented on paper or in digital form. Document attributes are entirely determined by the
people in your document constituency.
A document author is the person or persons who are concerned about what a document says and how readers will react. An author could be an individual, a team or an entire department. Corporate
documents often contain information from various sources and are authored by several different departments who may, or may not, be working in concert. These multiple authors may not even be aware
of each other’s presence in the process (one certain indicator that a document strategy is needed).
Identifying a single document author may not always be possible in a large organization. While there may be some documents that are written, designed and published by a single person who is solely
responsible for their content, media and performance, it is more likely that several authors are involved. Regardless, each has a common objective to convert information into action and to ensure
that the right message is effectively communicated to a reader.
Document producers are the individuals, work groups, departments, or vendors who provide the “output” of your document systems. They are the people who are responsible for production of your
documents – everyone from artists, typesetters and system programmers, to printer operators, mail clerks and Web masters.
It is essentially impossible to meet the needs of the other members of your document constituency if the needs of your producers are not met. Producers need the right information from the right
sources at the right time, as well as the right staffing and equipment in order to produce documents with acceptable quality, timeliness and cost. Document producers often feel the pinch between
meeting the needs of their customers and working within operating constraints. As a result, their needs are often at odds with the needs of the other members of your document constituency. A key
objective of your document strategy should be to understand and reduce this gap.
“The current corporate culture often contains a weird prejudice against the people who actually produce things,” says author and Web consultant Paul Telles. “It often seems that the big thinkers
are regarded as the real soul of the company. Without a clear means of production and the expertise to run them, however, the greatest ideas will fail to bear fruit.”
Stakeholders are customers of document performance. They are concerned with both the strategic and tactical aspects of your documents: how well they convert information into action and how cost
effectively and efficiently they can be produced. Stakeholders might include marketing executives concerned about whether consumers will purchase a product, financial officers concerned about how
quickly they will pay, or divisional vice presidents concerned about the costs involved with document production. Other stakeholders might include government regulators, internal auditors or
corporate legal counsel who are concerned with document security, content and verbiage. Suppliers are stakeholders too, since they supply the materials, machinery and technology that make your
document process run.
Stakeholders can have a significant influence on both the contents of a document and the medium used to present it. Both authors and producers take their cue from stakeholders when it comes to what
and how documents communicate. As a result, the needs and constraints of authors and producers can change depending on the needs and constraints of stakeholders.
Readers are the audience of your documents. They are the people who react and respond to the information contained in your target documents. Reader reaction is the litmus test of document
performance, so how information is converted into action is high on the list of concerns for both authors and stakeholders. As a result, the expectations and requirements of readers are important
to your strategy. The integrity of information contained in a document, its timely arrival, and how clearly it communicates are some important criteria for all readers. Privacy, security and
accuracy are important to readers outside your company, while readers inside your organization may be primarily concerned with how easy documents are to use, find and file.
Readers also influence both the message and the medium of a document. If the reader of your target document is a pharmacist, for example, the content you provide may need to be detailed, and the
message may need to be meticulous and specific. On the other hand, if your document is targeted at senior citizens that get prescriptions filled, your document may need to be less technical and
easier to understand – even the font size may be an important factor. And while a pharmacist, who fills the prescriptions, may be happy to refer to the Internet for up-to-date information, Medicare
recipients are less likely to surf the Web for the latest on prescription drugs.
The needs, constraints and requirements of your document constituency will guide your decisions and actions within your document strategy. Additionally, by consulting these people during the design
of your document strategy, you will be more likely to have their support and participation in whatever changes you propose. Ultimately, by identifying your document constituency and understanding
their respective needs and constraints, you will be more likely to construct a meaningful strategy that will be successful in gaining executive sponsorship and support.
One opportunity for improvement that often lies waiting for a document strategist is “constituency discord.” This is the instance where the needs or objectives of one member or members of your
document constituency are at odds with the needs and objectives of other members. Bringing harmony to this discord is one way to find success in your strategy.
For example, suppose two members of your document constituency are Jane Jones and Steve Smith. Jones is a product marketing manager and a document author. Smith is an operations manager and a
document producer. Jones is responsible for the content as well as the format and appearance of an important target document. Smith is responsible for producing the finished document and ensuring
that it is processed with the most efficient use of labor and equipment. Jones’s objective is to increase revenue while Smith’s is to reduce operating costs. While both are admirable goals, these
seemingly opposing objectives can create discord. As an author, Jones may complain that Smith is unable or unwilling to take the time and expense to produce a document that serves her objectives.
On the other hand, Smith may complain that Jones’s objectives are unreasonable and that she does not take into consideration his constraints concerning equipment, cost and workload. How can your
document strategy bring harmony to this discord?
Know your Document Constituency
In the Information Age, it is easy to become enamored with technology. But in the end, people are the reason documents are produced – without cavemen there would be no cave drawings; without people
there would be no documents. It seems reasonable, therefore, that the people who populate the document process in your organization are the best people to describe the process. By knowing your
document constituency and understanding their needs and objectives, you will design a document strategy that will bring about more meaningful and lasting benefits for your organization and the
people involved with your document process. Let these people point the way as you chart the course of your document strategy.