When having quality technical documentation is vital to the success of your business, choosing a documentation vendor becomes a priority. However, with so many different companies claiming to be documentation experts, how can you successfully identify the company that is right for you?
There are several "characteristics" you should look for when making a decision of this magnitude. Let's take a few moments to go over several do's and don'ts.
A qualified documentation vendor will offer a full-range of services including planning, design, content development, production, and timely delivery. This vendor will also offer qualified and skilled personnel who have extensive experience in their particular area of the creation process. Be wary of those who claim to offer all these services themselves. These are more than likely consultants who aren't able to provide all the services equally well alone.
The vendor you want to work with is focused on providing high-quality content. This process mandates that your vendor be willing to coordinate draft review meetings with subject matter experts (reviewers) to ensure accuracy. It also requires that they be flexible and able to adapt to change. In addition, you'll want your vendor to:
have the capability to provide electronic file transfer.
invest in tools and technology needed to get the job done right.
possess the expertise in using the documentation tools required for your project.
follow through on their commitments.
stay abreast of the latest cutting-edge technology (i.e., single-sourcing, XML).
To be on the safe side, ask to see a list of skill sets for the personnel who will be involved with your project(s). These should be employees who have experience in your particular industry. At the same time, request a list of references and samples of the company's previous work. The successful documentation vendor will be able to prove their ability to develop and maintain long-term client relationships.
Your project should also be assigned a documentation manager or leader who coordinates the entire effort. This person is key to the success of your technical documentation project. He/she will be responsible for keeping you informed of the project's status as well as heading off delays or troubleshooting and overcoming any challenges that are posed along the way. Your documentation manager will also offer suggestions for improvement, provide timely responses to you and your management team, and deliver activity reports at your request.
Planning is vital to the success of your documentation project. For this reason, it is important to work with a vendor who creates a plan. Every aspect of your project should be detailed including milestones, resources, risks, assumptions, and so on. A vendor who works without a written plan will likely experience delays and confusion... something no company needs to deal with.
You'll also want to inquire about the quality control processes, review processes, and other means for ensuring your project meets or exceeds your expectations.
During your search, you'll want to beware of those companies that act as more of a recruiting or staffing agency. Some will offer to supply one person to fill a position, however, as you can see from the information already covered, technical documentation is much more than a one-man job.
You may also find organizations that offer temporary help with technical documentation. This normally comes in the form of a temp employee who may have minimal experience with technical writing. Again, delays, confusion and loss of productivity usually come when someone other than a trained professional tackles a technical documentation project.
Take the time to interview documentation vendors thoroughly. You might even want to create your own checklist from the information given above. With just a little effort, you'll recognize those who can eliminate duplicated efforts, understand your business, organize the needed resources and materials, and complete the job on time with exceptional results.