By Mitch Willis
It was late 2012 when I received the news, I had been laid off, along with 400 other people where I worked. To make things worse, this layoff happened at Christmas time. As I made my way home on the LRT, I reflected on my next steps. When I reached home, my decision was clear. I was going into business for myself.
The first incarnation of Cohort was as a numbered company. I was fortunate to have built a great network of contacts after arriving in Calgary. I was able to leverage one of those connections into a contract creating training materials at ENMAX.
During the early years, I had several contracts in industries ranging from utilities, software, oil and gas, to construction. It was certainly an eye opener for me. I saw the benefits of documentation: how it’s essential for reducing the inherent risks in any business. Documentation helps maintain business continuity, intellectual capital and ensure clarity of communication.
I also saw the downsides of having ineffective or no documentation:
- Incorrect or inconsistent information being conveyed to employees and customers.
- A lack of formatting consistency, which creates an unprofessional image
- Employees needlessly working late into the night as they struggle with formatting documents.
- Increased support costs
I also saw the stress that documentation brings to managers and stakeholders. It was clear early on that documentation was one of many priorities competing for my client’s attention. They just didn’t have time to give it the attention it deserved. They needed help.
I also saw multiple examples of bad documentation. Careful examination revealed that much of the documentation failed because it was poorly written and poorly organized.
In December of 2014, my company had a new name and more importantly a plan for helping clients. It was going to change how people look at documentation, by turning a perceived nuisance into a solution for helping solve business problems. I would do it by using the following:
- Building superior relationships
- Conducting documentation audits
- Establishing basic documentation infrastructure
- Establishing superior organization
- Executing at a high level
My earlier experience had taught me that success in the consulting business was all based on creating superior, mutually-beneficial relationships. If I wanted to take this business further, I realized that I had to work with each client to establish an environment of mutual respect and collaborative partnership.
Key to this process, is transparency and trust. When the client knows exactly what you’re doing, and you have senior consultants executing at a high level, this goes a long way to establishing a healthy relationship.
Documentation audits are an essential for improving your documentation. You can’t improve your documentation if you don’t have a starting point. You need to audit the client’s existing documentation. The audit reveals where the client is in terms of their documentation maturity.
The next element is to ensure that basic documentation infrastructure is in place. This infrastructure is referring specifically to a style guide, master glossary and templates. With this infrastructure in place, your company will save time and money while projecting a consistent look to your employees and customers.
Superior organization means looking for ways to make a document more accessible to a reader. This can be done through applying information architecture practices like info mapping, chunking, tables and secondary headings.
Superior execution refers to seasoned experts embracing challenges and routinely performing at the higher end of their skill set.
We love Calgary and believe it’s important to give back to the city that’s provided us with so much. That’s why we’re proud to support the Calgary Humane Society (CHS). Established in 1922, the CHS has set out to:
“… help as many animals as we can and will continue to do so until we live in a world where we are no longer needed. By fostering the values of respect, compassion, teamwork and integrity, Calgary Humane Society is committed to creating a better tomorrow through education and collaboration.”
Though Cohort provides technical writing and editing services to international clients, Calgary is our home. Volunteering our time and providing support to organizations such as the CHS benefits our entire community.
For more information about the Calgary Humane Society, or to donate, visit www.calgaryhumane.ca.
The following values are woven into the DNA of our business: Trust, Transparency, Clarity, Consistency, Respect.
Cohort Technical Communications Inc. helps our clients reduce their risk and gain peace of mind through the implementation of documentation best practices and infrastructure.