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Know Your "Document Constituency"

14 Apr, 2003 By: Kevin Craine imageSource

Know Your "Document Constituency"

Documents are the
one single thing that can stop business cold yet, have no one in charge of
keeping the document process functioning efficiently and effectively on a
day-to-day basis. While many organizations have a "chief technology
officer," few have a "chief document officer." Without this
centralized responsibility, how can you expect your clients to design a
meaningful document strategy? Who are the people that will need to buy into the
idea? How can you help to "sell" a 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
documents are the best people to provide the finer points of navigation within a
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 a
document constituency has an important involvement with the document process…
their needs, difficulties, constraints and requirements are important
directional pointers for the development and implementation of a strategy. These
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 the document strategy you are selling has any hope of succeeding.

"The fact is, 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

The Document
Constituency The people who make up a document constituency are the people who
use the documents generated by your client, have responsibility for their
existence and have a stake in how well they perform. Chances are, you may
already know many of the people who make up your document constituency. But
there may be others whose membership is not immediately apparent. As you learn
more about your clients, their critical documents and the technology that is
used to produce them, the members of your customer's 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 a
company's documents will have, at different times, differing concerns, goals and
interests. You will need to be sure that the needs and concerns of these people
are addressed order to initiate a truly successful document strategy.

You can identify
members of the document constituency by using these four categories: o Authors -
the writers, composers and content providers, both intentional and implied. o
Producers - the creators, producers and processors of your documents. o
Stakeholders - the people who have a stake in the documents' performance. o
Readers - the people who use, read, and react to the 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 client's 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
the document constituency.

Authors 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

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.

Producers Document
producers are the individuals, work groups, departments, or vendors who provide
the "output" of the document systems. They are the people who are
responsible for the production of documents - everyone from artists, typesetters
and system programmers, to printer operators, mail clerks and webmasters.

It is essentially
impossible to meet the needs of the other members of a document constituency if
the needs of these 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
company and working within operating constraints. As a result, their needs are
often at odds with the needs of the other members of a document constituency. A
key objective of your document strategy should be to work with your customer 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 a document: 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 including
office equipment dealers are stakeholders too, since they supply the materials,
machinery and technology that make the document process run.

Stakeholders like
you, 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.

Readers Readers are
the audience of your client's documents. They are the people who react and
respond to the information contained in 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 you and your customers.

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 a company, while readers
inside an 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
client's target document is a pharmacist, for example, the content they provide
may need to be detailed, and the message may need to be meticulous and specific.
On the other hand, if your client's documents are targeted at senior citizens
who get prescriptions filled, the 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 client's document constituency will guide
your decisions and actions when recommending and selling a document strategy.
Additionally, by consulting these people during the document strategy design,
you will be more likely to have their support and participation in whatever
changes you propose. Ultimately, by identifying the document constituency and
understanding their respective needs and constraints, you will be more likely to
help construct a meaningful strategy that will be successful in gaining
executive sponsorship and support.

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 an organization
are the best people to describe the process. By knowing a company's document
constituency and understanding their needs and objectives, you will be able to
offer a document strategy that will bring about more meaningful and lasting
benefits for an organization and the people involved with the document process.
Let these people point the way as you chart the course of their document


Craine is the author of Designing a Document Strategy. He is respected speaker
and instructor, and an authority on document strategies, process improvement and
business communication technology. To contact Kevin or to order the book, visit

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