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4 Tips for Working with a Technical Documentation Consultant

In the technical industries, collaborating with a consultant who specializes in technical documentation is an effective way to improve the performance of your organization’s workforce. Consultants can help organizations and their workers adapt to new processes or equipment, streamline their instrumentation training, or maximize their production workflow.

A good consultant will work to understand and assess your unique situation, then help you to identify efficiency gaps and propose specific and meaningful solutions. Before meeting with a consultant, and during the technical documentation process, there are several steps your organization can take to make the most of your time with them. By identifying key problem areas, providing them with ample interview time, putting a change management strategy in place, and running a return-on-investment study, you’ll contribute to the measurable success of your initiative.

Identify Specific Problem Areas

The consultant is there to help solve your problems, but without a clear idea of what those are, you can waste a lot of time identifying them. Before meeting with the consultant, take the time to identify your organization’s pain points. Where are you seeing the greatest number of nonconformances? Are there gaps in your existing training? Are you struggling to retain employees? While it is not necessary to identify every problem area, you should begin the process with a few specific areas you want your consultant to focus on.

Be sure to enlist individuals from every level of your organization and ask them where they perceive issues. Perspective can be crucial when identifying deficiencies in your technical training. A senior manager has a vastly different viewpoint from a machine operator. Speaking to both can help you identify issues that are not immediately obvious to people who work in other areas of your organization.

Don’t Shortcut the Interview Process

When bringing in a technical documentation consultant, be sure to budget enough time for the information-gathering phase. The consultant may want to tour your entire facility, interact with your equipment operators, and conduct interviews with individuals across your organization. Define who the key stakeholders are but allow enough time for the consultant to interview others as well. As noted above, people in different roles have vastly different perspectives. The more people your consultant can speak to, the easier it will be for them to uncover what isn’t working and help you devise a solution.

It is also important to prepare your employees for the consultant’s visit. Ambushing your staff with an unexpected interview will not lead to a positive outcome. Let staff members know early on when the consultant will visit and what they can expect. This will make the interview phase much more fruitful by allowing employees to organize their thoughts and plan time away from their roles.

Create a Change Management Program

Consultants are harbingers of change. When bringing in someone from outside the organization, employees often fear the worst. Establishing a strong change management strategy early on will help you design a solid implementation plan, mitigate employee resistance, and ensure that your project runs smoothly. Start building your change strategy long before the documentation consultant shows up and communicate your objectives to your employees in a clear, transparent way. Share your goals with employees and emphasize how this will benefit them professionally.

Effective change management comes from the top, so be certain to get buy-in and active support from leaders across your entire organization. New technical documentation will require input from a wide array of employees. Coordinating those efforts will require clear communication between leaders in different departments. If your managers are not properly informed about or invested in the process, you will not receive the participation you need to be successful.

Run a Return-on-Investment Study

Measurement is all about identifying, tracking, and analyzing the desired benefits of improved documentation, which is crucial in demonstrating your program’s ROI. Many organizations are not aware that this is an option, or they may think that gathering the necessary data is too challenging. Without assessing your initiative though—before, during, and after implementation—you have no way of knowing whether it was effective or how to optimize your efforts in the future.

Any qualified consultant will be perfectly happy to help you design a measurement plan, provided you build this into the process early on. Be sure to discuss metrics with the consultant at the beginning of your project. Consultants can identify data that ties proper documentation to your real-world business results. After identifying these metrics, they can work with you to develop a method of gathering and analyzing this data over time.

Partnering with Your Consultant to Improve Technical Documentation

When working with a consultant, it’s crucial to provide them with the proper support. By supplying them with the right information, and putting change management and assessment strategies into play, you will ensure that your partnership is successful and get the best possible return on your investment.

GP Strategies offers a wide variety of technical workforce solutions. Contact us today to learn more about optimizing your technical skills training documentation or for help running an ROI study.

About the Authors

Stephen Harnden
Steve Harnden has worked as a maintenance training instructor and technical writer for GP Strategies since 1998. Before joining us, he served as an avionics technician on F-111 aircraft for the US Air Force. Aside from his aviation expertise, Steve has supported clients across multiple industries including space, transportation, power generation, and steel. In addition to his bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronic engineering from California State University, Sacramento, Steve is a registered professional electrical engineer in the state of Florida. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology (it’s a long story) from the University of California, Davis. Steve and his wife have three children.

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