Technological change is not new, but the pace of change in some fields is breathtaking. Battery technology is one example, and photo-voltaics is another. And of course, technology associated with reading is experiencing a dramatic rate of change.
How do people cope with rapid change in their fields? Neil Armstrong learned to fly in 1945... a time when the sound barrier was considered to be an impenetrable barrier. By the time of Armstrong's first posting as a US Navy pilot in 1950, the sound barrier had been broken, and the first jet fighter squadrons had been formed. In 1957, Armstrong flew a rocket-powered aircraft for the first time. By 1960 he had flown at close to 4,000 mph (six times the speed of sound) to heights of 120,000 feet. Armstrong managed this transition as a pilot by continually learning. Over 10 years, he progressed from subsonic jets, to transonic jets, to supersonic jets, to rocket aircraft. Each step was relatively small, but overall it was a giant leap (to quote a phrase Armstrong later used when he stepped from Apollo 11).
How does Neil Armstrong's journey into space relate to technical communication? Consider that it only took 10 years for us to move from typewriters (1980) to laser printers (1990), from text-only Web browsers (1993) to websites with embedded movies (2003).
The Apollo 11 story can provide another lesson for technical communicators. As the name implies, Armstrong's Apollo 11 mission was the eleventh in a program of 20 missions. The program objective was landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. Each mission was part of a broad strategy... part of a far-sighted plan.
Big projects only reach their goals if they come with a comprehensive plan. Like many projects, there can be hurdles and disasters. The Apollo 1 spacecraft exploded on the launch pad, killing the three astronauts. The next three missions were unmanned flights to test systems. Each mission validated a different system. The unmanned Apollo 5 orbited the earth. Apollo 6 tested the Saturn V propulsion. Apollo 7 was a manned orbit. Apollo 8 circumnavigated the moon. Apollo 9 tested the lunar module, and 10 was a dress rehearsal. In documentation, this might be called iterative development. Unit testing is another IT term that might apply.
For large documentation or training projects, an Apollo approach is a good model. Here are some small steps to success:
- Meticulously plan
- Set achievable budgets and deadlines
- Clearly state business goals
- Develop a content strategy
- Create prototypes and proof-of-concepts
- Test and choose the right tools
- Keep learning
- Encourage your team
- Continually check progress against the plan
and... most important...
- Think big
Looking back, you'll see how those small steps became a giant leap.
In mid 1900s US and USSR were undergoing through cold war. There was immense competition to prove sovereign superiority at any cost. Huge budget was sanctioned for secret and non-secret military R&D work. When one country invented something or tested some prototype, the other would surpass it by doing similar and even superior things. This provided an ideal platform for:
- Productization of technological progress and knowhow
- Setting vision and milestones on creating new, advanced, and futuristic designs
- Passionate and committed follow-up to deliver on new designs
- High investment in research and development to create innovations, designs, prototypes
- Environment for competitions
- Scope and support for commercializing successful designs
- Scope and support for evolving on feedback
The same ideal platform can be created for Technical Communications Services as well, to produce products like the Apollo Aircrafts.
Posted by: Sudhir Subudhi | August 20, 2014 at 05:33 AM