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Research digest: Managing change for CCMS implementations

The transition to a CCMS can be rather prickly. While a transition may be punctuated with any number of challenges, many organizations suffer a similar pain: they emphasize how the technology will change, neglecting to accommodate the cultural dynamics within the organization that may impede the transition. Consequently, the new system may be met with resistance—either passively, with stakeholders struggling to adapt, or actively, with stakeholders opposing the implementation.

An earlier study of a CCMS implementation proposed an approach for assessing and addressing the organizational factors that may disrupt a successful transition. In 2015, I contributed to a study that took this research to practice, applying the recommended assessment during two CCMS projects.

Situating the transition: The role and impact of a CCMS

A CCMS, or Component Content Management System, is a dramatically different approach to creating and managing content. Authors create content components—essentially, building blocks of content that can be assembled into a variety of outputs. The advantage: content components can be authored once and reused as needed, reducing redundant work and facilitating consistent updates, among other benefits.

This approach disrupts authors’ longstanding practices. A How To guide is no longer written from beginning to end as a single, standalone piece. Content components are authored as reusable pieces, and then sequences of these content components are selected to compile various outputs—an introductory How To guide, an in-depth How To guide, and a reference guide for Support staff, for instance.

Alongside the disruption of writing practices, authors face changes in their authoring workflow and technical environment, as new technology—DITA and the CCMS—is introduced. Authors face a steep learning curve as they seek to master the new technology, in addition to their daily workload and, likely, other transition tasks.

In the longer term, the authoring work group may anticipate a change in their role and status within the larger organization. A CCMS is a significant investment, reflecting an organization’s intention to better leverage and manage their content assets. Content creation and management is centralized, prioritized. And authoring work groups may anticipate a corresponding change in their role, status, and workload, as a result.

These changes, or the prospect of these changes, may stoke any number of expectations and reactions—possibly anxiety and aspiration, among them. And not just for members of the authoring teams. Stakeholders across the organization will be impacted by the transition to a CCMS.

Studying the transition: The role and impact of cultural dynamics

In an earlier study, Rebekka Andersen conducted an in-depth analysis of one organization’s CCMS implementation. Andersen attributed the challenges that punctuated the, rather prickly, transition to the organization’s cultural dynamics [1]. She concluded that the challenges were largely grounded in key stakeholders’ resistance to the change.

In particular, she observed that the future users of the CCMS felt unprepared and undervalued throughout the transition. The CCMS would introduce altogether new practices, processes, and tools for these stakeholders, yet they felt unrecognized and unsupported in meeting this change.

To address this need, Andersen recommended that organizations pursuing a CCMS strive to understand and address the cultural dynamics that will impact the transition. She offered a series of research questions designed to explore potential factors—with the goal of identifying them early, such that, a plan for supporting cultural change could be developed and executed during the transition.

In a follow-up study, we aimed to transform the broad research questions offered by Andersen into a tool for gauging cultural dynamics within two CCMS implementation projects. The goal: to determine whether relevant cultural dynamics could be identified and, subsequently, planned and managed for during the implementation.

Applying the research: The design and analysis of a questionnaire

During the planning phase of the two CCMS projects, we developed and disseminated a questionnaire based on Andersen’s earlier work. The two CCMS projects were similar in size and scope, though one was at a technology company and another at an educational non-profit. Both projects were lead by the same CM industry practitioner, Joe Gollner [2].

The questionnaire was designed to assess documentation team members’ perceptions of and attitudes towards the CCMS implementation project. It was hoped that the questionnaire would be an efficient means of investigation, as it would be the least demanding of the documentation teams’, already limited, time.

Twenty-three questions, mostly open-ended questions with several likert-like questions, asked respondents about their:

  • Knowledge of the goals and status of the project
  • Assessment of the role and value of the project
  • Assessment of their role and value to the project
  • Forecast of the impact and changes during the transition
  • Forecast of the impact and changes after the transition

The questionnaire was well-received by the documentation teams; one organization had a 100% response rate, the other was missing only a few respondents from the team. And, in both cases, the answers to the open-ended questions were rich and detailed.

The open-ended questions were analyzed using a qualitative approach that ensured the findings were grounded in the data, as opposed to searching for predefined codes or themes. This allowed for the emergence of unanticipated concerns and considerations.

After the initial analysis, the findings were discussed with the documentation teams, to validate the conclusions and identify the aspects the teams felt were most significant. The findings were then brought to management where they were used to inform the plans for implementing the CCMS.

Leveraging the research: The utility and impact of the questionnaire

The questionnaire findings indicated that both documentation teams had high hopes for the CCMS implementation; they recognized the value of the new technology, and they anticipated welcome improvements for the development and management of the documentation.

However, there was a significant amount of anxiety with respect to the transition. They realized that the transition would be very demanding, but, as of yet, they had little idea of what the changes would actually involve. Only that it would require learning very different technology and habituating to very different practices. And, since they would need to continue their usual workload during the transition, they were very concerned about the time and energy the transition would demand.

These themes informed the CCMS implementation plans. In particular, an emphasis was placed on allocating time for training, with the initial training time advanced to earlier in the process and with plans to reduce workload during designated training times.

Perhaps most importantly, the questionnaire findings prompted conversations between documentation teams and management. It provided an opportunity for more open discussion of concerns and challenges. For project leaders and executive management, the questionnaire findings brought new perspective on the dynamics at work within their organizations—and they were better positioned to address those realities, as a result. Meanwhile, the documentation teams had an opportunity to raise their concerns and contribute to shaping the process that would have a significant impact on their daily work.

The questionnaire, though limited in the number of questions and by focus on a single team, proved to be a useful tool in assessing and addressing some of the cultural dynamics that would shape the, potentially prickly, transition. It is hoped that future work will continue to explore the options and opportunities for managing cultural change during CCMS implementations.

A more complete overview of what was done and what was concluded can be found in the published report—available openly online here.

[1] Cultural dynamics, for Andersen, consists of “aspects of the climate, history, and practices of an organization and units within the organization that shape project stakeholder perceptions, attitudes, and actions”.

[2] Full disclosure: this project was a bit of a family affair, with my father leading the CCMS projects and my husband and I contributing as analysts.

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