Agile product development has revolutionized far more than how companies develop their products. In fact, it’s transforming technical product content, too, as well as how that content is created. While agile methods transcend numerous business sectors, it’s the software industry that has felt their impact most. It’s also where technical content faces the biggest challenges as a result of three converging trends:
- A rapid acceleration in software development cycles, including online launches
- Online hosting with embedded content, where bite-sized content produced at frequent intervals is replacing massive tome-sized documents produced over the course of many months
- An aspiration for localized content in multiple languages timed with product releases
Let’s consider these trends, and their implications for technical content, individually.
Shorter development times
Conventional wisdom tells us how agile methodology has disrupted traditional development cycles. Actually it would be more accurate to say it’s demolished them. Product cycles, once typically stretching 18 months to two years, are now measured in a few months or even weeks. The traditional waterfall method, with its longer review periods, has given way to shorter, iterative sprints in which teams continually evaluate and improve code.
What’s more, product upgrades now occur in increments as short as six weeks. Since content must be ready to roll at the same time as the product itself, your content creators need to adapt themselves to the same agile methods that their product development teammates use. Working in smaller, highly integrated teams, they face tighter time frames that strongly encourage the adoption of minimalist, standardized approaches to content creation.
Online-hosted, embedded content
Because today’s apps live online, the content associated with them does too. Long-gone are the days of the official shipping event, with software delivery via DVD. This means that the nature of technical product content is changing since it’s now integrated into the same processes used to develop the software product. When customers access your product, they are able to access the technical product content associated with it at the same time, rather than obtaining it in the form of free-standing manuals created using tools from the “old” offline software world.
In fact, all technical content — including FAQs and other technical support — now lives online. And thanks to agile product development’s speedy product cycles, rapid response to customer feedback is no longer just an ideal but a stringent requirement to keep up with the pace of frequent upgrades. The dramatically increased emphasis on searchability that accompanies online access is also influencing new agile-inspired content creation processes.
Agile development’s just-in-time methods have an especially critical impact on technical content in the immediate run-up to a product’s online launch. Because coding changes can now occur right up to the last minute, content creators must keep pace, without the once-customary pre-launch hiatus. This phase of the development process holds high potential for chaos without careful content monitoring, a challenge that participation by non-native speakers in content creation can exacerbate.
As the implications of faster product cycles and online-hosted content take hold, a new rule of thumb is emerging: Your technical product content deserves the same level of discipline as you devote to your code throughout the development process, so you should monitor both for quality and consistency in the same way.
Both of these trends are drawing attention increasingly to a third: the importance of rapid content localization. It was not so long ago that technical content first appeared in so-called Tier I languages, such as English, followed a few months later by translations into Tier II languages and (maybe), a few months further on, Tier III. Older models of content creation for product development paid less attention to localized content: translations ate up resources and diverted attention from more pressing tasks.
Localization, however, has become easier and, at the same time, it has also become more critical to product success. Machine translation, for example, has become increasingly reliable. New content optimization software also produces greater consistency and simplicity in phrasing and sentences, leading to content that is easier to understand and translate. In fact, content optimization software can help your company meet the challenges of agile development head-on by allowing for continual content monitoring, and delivering a fundamentally improved site-build experience with correct, high-quality content.
Thanks to the growing efficiency and scalability of these approaches, companies like yours can launch web-based products in dozens of languages simultaneously.
For the creators of technical product content, these are challenging and exciting times. Agile methodologies have certainly changed the face of product development. In doing so, they are also changing the role and nature of content itself. With the growing importance of content in the product brand equation and the enhanced capabilities of content optimization tools, content creators now have a huge opportunity to innovate alongside their product development colleagues.