The Question of Approach: One vs Many

The Question of Approach: One vs Many

Last week, for our internal communicator’s club meeting, I presented some Tips for Effective Writing. Those who attended the session were mostly developers. And, that’s why it was even more useful for them. To help understand the core need for communication, we used a picture quiz, which you and I will discuss through this post.

Look at the following pictures (courtesy: Internet). The first picture is of Lotus Temple, New Delhi, and not of Sydney’s Opera House. The other picture is a multi-utility tool, also called Swiss knife. Here’s a question for you:

How do you think the two pictures contrast?

Before you begin answering the question, here’s a little built up for it:

As a seeker of information, I am like every other “user” or “audience” – I am like YOU, dear reader. I prefer to take the shortest or quickest path to the resolution. Much like you, I get petrified when I can’t find the shortest route. Much like you, I get petrified when I see unorganized or insufficient information. It’s as simple as that. This puts a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of technical communicators and user experience (UX) designers. Sadly, there is still no guarantee that we, the information seekers, would access the right information tidbit at the right time; or even if we do, we get to use it correctly. This means, despite all efforts by technical communicators and UX designers, the communication remains incomplete if the seekers can’t get to – or comprehend – the right information or the right tool at the right time.

Given that background, look at the first picture.

 

Lotus-Temple-Aerial-View

The Lotus Temple, New Delhi

 

Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who seek answers to oneness and peace, go to Lotus Temple. Don’t drift: the name is indicative. So you can take any temple, mosque, church, or even faith. Seekers like you might have a lot of questions, but each of those questions will lead to only one answer: of realizing the seeker’s true self. So, there may be numerous problems that might lead to just one solution. This resembles the Sanskrit hymn, Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti, which largely translates to “That which exists is One. Brahmin (Sages) call it by various names.” Rather than seeking the solution, seek for what you wish to solve – the need. That’s how even I have organized the content for you.

Look at the second picture.

 

victorinox_mountaineer_lg

Multi-utility tool

 

Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who wish to complete a task or resolve their issues will seek such a tool. A tool, which has one unique solution for every problem. A tool, which can do a lot, but only dedicatedly. Seek, if you must, the need. The tool is still only a medium to accomplish; it’s a means to achieve, not the end.

But before talking about contrast, let us take a minute to discuss a little about what’s common for both the pictures. The only common thing is the need. The need to discover, resolve, and accomplish; the need to get things done; and the need to get questions answered.

So, here’s the contrast: the contrast is in having one universal solution versus a unique solution for every problem. The contrast is also in stressing the presence of the right information tidbit and of the right tool both at the same time. For the seeker’s shortest route to the resolution is the one that contains a quick and unique solution to their problems; the one that addresses the need.

What’s the lesson for the seekers and technical communicators?

The rules of grammar stand true and remain unchanged. However, there still are different ways in which we can compose, express the same information. Similarly, even though there are style guides and standards, there are hundreds of scenarios that we can count as exceptions. Probably, that’s why we see the Microsoft’s Manual of Style, fourth edition, mention “Microsoft” and “Not Microsoft” ways of creating content, unlike the “correct” and “incorrect” ways in their third edition of the book.

We should choose based on what’s needed, required from the content. There lies harmony where both technical communicators’ and information seekers’ needs meet.

Five Common Inventory Management Mistakes

This post is part of the series of the ad hoc content writer (#AdHocCW). It was first published as an e-article, where it appeared with minor additions that contained information about the company.

Arguably, inventory management is one of the most important things in the manufacturing industry. It is the movement of the inventory from raw materials to finished goods and from items to products that create the flow of money. But, what if you weren’t managing your inventories well? We list the five commonest mistakes.

No Tracking of Inventories

Not tracking what comes in or goes out: This is perhaps the worst of all mistakes. But, it only worsens when you have more than one location to manage. There might just be situations when you would have days before the requests for replenishments reach you.

Solution? Get an ERP. A good inventory management system can help create tracks for raw materials, intermediate items, and finished goods. And, you can track down every single item right on your desktop. There are two important things that a good inventory management system can do for you: track the required replenishments and record the finished goods turns.

Lack of Inventory Forecasts

Efficient organizations know that customer-satisfaction indexes directly link to meeting production schedules and delivery deadlines. But, an absence of the required vision and knowledge may become an impediment.

Inventory management systems can help forecast the finished goods requirements based on trends, demands of finished goods, and production schedules. In fact, it is perhaps the need of the hour for you to adopt an inventory management system to keep up the pace with today’s fast-paced, competitive environment.

No Automation

Gone are those days of pens and (piles and piles of) papers. Go paperless! Get an inventory management system for real-time display and analysis of inventories. If you are still using either a manual method or the basic computer-based spreadsheets to manage your inventories, chances are you will run into trouble sooner or later.

Inventory management systems negate the possibilities of human errors. Also, those computer-based spreadsheets may only be good for creating tables, it seems. Today’s inventory management systems can store millions of records, which you can use to search, retrieve, and print the required information and reports in practically no time.

Besides, you cannot edit or manage manual records when you are running out of time. That’s because multiple users can access an inventory management system to record and access real-time information on the inventory statuses for multiple products, requirements, and locations. Now, that’s the efficiency you want in today’s environment.

Lack of Data Integration

Inventory management systems integrate seamlessly with your current databases. This helps create and manage information that flows easily from one module to another, just like the flow of raw materials from receipt bins through production facilities and to the shipment area. And, then you can multiply the benefit of seamless tracking and enablement for every location that you have.

Resistance to Adopt New Technology

Imagine businesses that see large volumes of incoming and outgoing inventories. How difficult would it be for them to manage the volumes efficiently? Now, imagine that scale of inventory management for more than one product, more than one warehouse location, and more than one business operation. It is easy to lose count and track of inventories.

Inventory management systems can help you manage such loads easily. You can even use your handheld devices to track inventories. Such systems can help you with operations like physical count, raw material and intermediate-product management, and storing packaging and finished goods items.

Conclusion

Today’s inventory management systems are equipped to provide a comprehensive inventory-management solution. You can use the systems to track the requirement for raw materials, consumables, and intermediates; create and manage intermediate items; and keep a log of how much finished goods items you have in the inventory. These reliable systems can greatly reduce the possibilities of mistakes and consequently improve your operational efficiency.

Using ERPs to Improve Productivity of Manufacturing Units

This post is part of the series of the ad hoc content writer (#AdHocCW). It was first published as an e-article, where it appeared with minor additions that contained information about the company.


An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is not only a tool to automate business processes and their underlying transactional data, but also a methodology to streamline and improve the operational efficiency of those business processes. And, manufacturing is indeed one business process where the impact of the use of ERP can be critical. Let us explore how does the use of ERP systems contribute to improving the productivity of manufacturing units.

Data and Decision Integration

ERP systems typically cover all business operations across a business unit. Consequently, the biggest impact of implementing ERPs lies in the integration of information. Such an integration is critical from the point of view of the survival and success of a business unit. That’s because decisions are time and resource critical. Any change or influence from the internal (controllable) and external (uncontrollable) factors can affect the decisions. And, having information at fingertips can always improve the effectiveness of the time-and-resource-critical decision making. Such decisions, though taken at different levels of different departments, will still be cohesive and move the organization in the same direction.

Vision Implementation

Businesses are as much about “tomorrow” as about “today”. Therefore, it is important for us to plan things much in advance. ERP systems can help us graduate data into facts, facts into information, and information into insights. These insights can lend us the vision, which is important to our success. An ERP system can also bring in the additional capability of analysis. We can use the reports and dashboards from millions of the stored data to come up with plans that can help us view the everyday business operations, such as demand and supply, way ahead of time. This capability is indeed important for the manufacturing units.

Organizational Management

One thing that ERP does, and does good, is operational management. We can use the information from ERP systems to help optimize our manufacturing activities. We can use ERP systems to switch people and tasks, based on the knowledge that the systems gather for us. That way, we can manufacture more in less time, with perhaps the best person and tool acquiring the best time slots.

Reduction of Losses

Just as we can forecast demands and supplies or transform data into insights, we can track and optimize our workforce, too, to make sure that we adhere to plans, budgets, and time constraints. This means a lot of time for us to adjust to changes, if any, in plans. But, a greater benefit of implementing ERPs is the reduction of losses. When we ERPs to optimize our manufacturing capabilities, we use our tools, people, and resources in ways that can help us predict, avoid, and, if required, overcome shortages and losses.

ERP systems can help us with some key areas of business operations, such as assuming timeliness in deliveries of orders, improving the quality of our processes and products, optimizing and reducing the product costs in the long run, reducing the downtime of manufacturing units on account of either lack of raw materials or failure due to overloads. But, the biggest benefit is still in reaping a higher sense of certainty in the overall functioning of a manufacturing unit.

The Ad hoc Content Writer

This month has been really exciting for me at the office. That’s because, from the first day, I played only a technical communicator. But in this month, I added some more feathers to my tech-comm cap – Newsletter and Blogs!

I delivered a big project at the start of this month: Administration, installation, and user guides; a CHM help; and a couple of utility documents. And, all that as the only writer for the project. Another project on the professional timeline, so I thought. But, the company had other plans for me. As I waited for other projects to start, my company gave me this opportunity to take part in the first-of-its-kind project, the company newsletter.

We decided it to be on the online platform, and in only about a couple of weeks, came up with the first draft of the newsletter. It must have been our efforts (and some luck) that we got the draft approved WITHOUT A SINGLE CHANGE. The newsletter is now live, but because it’s for only internal circulation, I cannot share the link with you.

My manager knows that I have a blog and that I contribute a fair amount of time to it. So, he assigned me to work with the content-writing team lead, and come up with blog posts for the company’s online presence. The efforts are to be a part of the company’s India marketing campaign. And, I am excited about this new ad hoc role of a content writer. Of course, I am still pitching in with the usual technical-communication efforts, but putting in efforts into the marketing side of things seems more like re-reading some old pages from my past.

In the coming weeks (or days, perhaps) I’ll share some of the blog posts I wrote for the company’s online presence. I hope you will like reading them. For ease of reference, I will hashtag those posts as #AdHocCW. Do let me know how good I do as the ad hoc content writer. One last thought: It has not been difficult for me to play the roles of technical communicator and content writer. I have always thought that technical communicators can excellently double as content writers; just that now I can say that more confidently.

TechComm and Content Disruption

Vinish Garg recently posted on the content’s role in Disruption. In his post, he shared what the experts had to say on the role that content has to play/currently plays. Here’s my opinion:

What is Disruption?

Let me first take you back in time. This started when the marketing and branding industry opened the corporate gates to the world of consumers. And, by opening the gates, I mean it transformed its value proposition from “this is what I have” to “this is what I can do”.

This is when the small brands started becoming revolutionarily big by using the power of content to reach people. Gradually, the brand communication transformed from advertisements to jingles, to sports, to brand personification, and to emails. But, this inherent idea of associating brands with emotions continued to lose its value as the size of content continued to become unmanageably big.

Today, we have a lot more touch points to reach to our consumers, yet we are far less effective in reaching the right audiences. Reason? The consumers are lost in the enormity of content. In the race of creating more content, we have forgotten to make it effectively personal. Today, the consumers have a lot of options, and each of those options is trying to be different. But, when everyone tries to be different, no one is different.

It is important to disrupt this clichéd template of communication to help consumers make informed decisions. It is important to keep consumers at the focus to design communication strategies that transform the value proposition from “this is what I can do” to “this is what I can do for you”.

This disruption is to bring back the consumers from the point of “I am being pushed” (with the product/service) to “I am being heard”. And, only such a disruption can help us engage better, listen better, and do better.

And, how can technical communication/technical communicators play a role in Disruption?

I think it is about the consumers, and not about the product. We exist because the consumers (and their needs) exist. We help build this communication ecosystem. We communicate products in an undistorted, unappealing form. But, we do connect the features and benefits. We can help our consumers answer the “what’s in it for me” question. Of course, we may not sell. But we can at least help them buy.

I look at it this way: If organizations were chemical equations, technical communicators would be the catalyst. We communicate. And, we help communicate. The information passes through us. So, it is up to us to transform that information into its utterly simple, memorable, and usable form. In fact, we can equate customers’ requirements with the developers’ intentions.

We can align tools, methodologies, and the technology while we bring clarity, insights, oneness, and simplicity (not in that order though). But of course, that all sums up as the easy-sounding commonsensical task. And, making common sense truly common is perhaps the disruption.

Don’t Waste Words

The ancient Indian literature is full of symbolism. But, the documents from the relatively recent history are no less full of insights and wisdom. During one of my regular conversations recently, someone shared something really interesting with me, which made me write this post. Right, so the verses in the post are originally composed (and possibly sung) by Saint Tukaram, a popular Poet-Philosopher-Contributor from the early 17th century. He is known for his devotional poetry, but is known to have educated community in general toward logical devotion toward the almighty. Click here to read this post.

Three Tips for Effective Localization

In this post, I take a closer look at the localization project in which my team and I assisted. I take cues from this project, and the similar ones that I have done previously, to discuss the top-three points for localization. This post is special to me, because it has helped me unfold those chapters of my life, which I had come to forget. If you are new to localization, this post will help you scratch its surface. If you already are into this field, I hope that the post will help add some new points to your localization plans. Click here to read the full post.

Trends in Technical Communication

In response to a reader’s question, I explore the impact of soft skills on the trends in technical communication. But, do the skills and trends have anything in common? Can the soft skills affect trends? If yes, how? Well, there are a lot of questions. And, I attempt to solve some of them in this post. Read the full post.

The Writing Principles

Have you ever come across a poorly written write-up? Have you ever felt that you could have written better? A couple of write-ups, which I read recently, drew my thoughts on writing about writing. I have always believed that anyone can write. But, if everyone can write, can everyone become a writer? I have explored this thought, and prepared a list (… which is not really an exhaustive one!) of guidelines that can help everyone write better. Read the full post.

Technical Communicator: The New Branding Person

Last month, I got a chance to read from some of my old books. I am a marketing graduate. So, while I read some random pages from the marketing domain, I could see that the learning matched to technical communication as well. But, how could the lessons on branding teach anything about technical communication? In this post, I try to explore this question to help improve my understanding.