How to outsource effectively
So, you’ve decided to seek help to produce your technical documentation? Maybe even our article “Outsource or Hire? A few thoughts to help you choose” helped you decide?
All you have to do now is make sure everything goes smoothly. Your documentation has to be produced as efficiently as possible and, especially, it has to hit your targets. But how? Here are five tips to help you get started.
1. Choose the right sub-contractors
Step One. You need to choose THE company that meets your needs. First and foremost, look for sub-contractors that have a proven track record. If you know one of their past clients, that’s great. This will help you find out more about their work methods, the quality of their deliverables and, most importantly, whether they are reliable and meet deadlines. Otherwise, you can ask sub-contractors to provide references and then contact their clients on your own.
As we’ve already mentioned in “What Should You Look for in a Technical Writer?“, good technical writers must have good writing and communication skills. Ask your sub-contractors to provide samples of their work, in your own area of expertise if possible. That way, you’ll know if their work is up to your expectations.
Have you found a sub-contractor who’s familiar with your area of expertise? That’s definitely a good sign. Even if your products are totally revolutionary, that doesn’t mean you should produce your own technical documentation. Don’t forget: with a little support from your team, a talented technical writer should be able to learn quickly and clearly explain anything you produce.
2. Clearly define your goals
Before you bring in a sub-contractor, make sure your technical documentation goals are clearly defined. How will your documentation be used? To provide your clients with better product support? To improve your staff’s performance? To assist your sales team? When you set clear goals, you end up with documentation that meets both your expectations and your users’ needs. Sub-contractors can even help you set your project goals and scope. Before you start, be sure to define the following:
- The problems you’re trying to solve
- Other needs you need to address
- Your target audience
- Your budget
- The deadline
- Any work processes or tools
3. Choose the right in-house resource people (and allow them the time they need!)
Even if you outsource the production of your technical documentation, your in-house resources won’t be standing by: even the best sub-contractors won’t get very far if no one is available to provide them with the information they need or to answer their questions. That means you need to assign your company’s in-house resources to these tasks. But not just anyone! To ensure the project is completed efficiently, choose people who:
- Have the necessary skills and knowledge to answer questions
- Are eager to get involved
- Have good communication skills
- Understand the importance of high-quality deliverables and documentation
Remember, too, to give your internal resources the time they need to support your sub-contractors. If they can’t take time to answer questions or make necessary revisions, the project is sure to fall behind schedule. So, how about assigning your resources several short blocks of time (say, just an hour at a time) to work on the project? This is better than a few 10-hour days when you’re right up against the deadline! Also be sure to consult your sub-contractors since they’re the ones who really know what they expect from your in-house resources.
4. Monitor the progress of your project
Even when you trust your sub-contractors, you’ll still have to do some follow-up. Keep an eye on the project’s progress by appointing an in-house project manager or supervisor.
And again, it’s important to choose the right person: someone who’s both available and familiar with the product being documented, the documentation goals, the resources involved and the deadlines. That way, he or she will be able to coordinate your in-house resources with your sub-contractors. Our advice? Choose a project or product manager to monitor the documentation process.
5. Support sub-contractors throughout the project
When you outsource the production of your technical documentation, documentation quality and compliance with deadlines both depend on the support you give your sub-contractors.
Throughout the project, make sure sub-contractors have all the information they need when they need it by making sure they have the right inputs at the right time.
Next, put your sub-contractors in direct contact with your in-house resources who can answer questions promptly. Also, your resources should know to inform your sub-contractors asap of any changes to the project that impact the documentation process. The faster changes are incorporated, the less work will be required.
In addition, if your company has a style guide and a terminology glossary, be sure to give them to your sub-contractors at the beginning of the process! That way, they won’t waste time developing tools you already have.
When you decide to outsource your technical documentation, you choose to work with one or more technical communication professionals. Trust their expertise and consider them members of your team. After all, you all have the same goal: providing your clients, partners and staff with high-quality documentation.