WaDaYa KnO!

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Does DITA Fail?

The Single SorceressThere was a recent conversation on a Linked In group about what makes DITA projects fail. Most comments were centered around not properly analyzing the requirements, choosing the wrong tools, and various implementation challenges, but what was not talked about is the effort it takes for authors and users who are new to DITA to adopt it.

Non-DITA Native

Authors coming from a FrameMaker or MS Word background are used to lots of things being transparent to them. They don’t think about these things because they’ve trained themselves how to get them done. For instance, FrameMaker gives you a report of unresolved links and often takes you right to the area where the broken links are so you can easily fix them. If you want to delete a condition you have set on some content, you can just remove the condition from the conditions list and Fame removes the condition from the content. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to worry about linking or reuse strategies or information models. Further, when using FrameMaker and MS Word, it is most common to author using a simple, uncomplicated linear book model, whereas DITA topic-based authoring allows authors to have very complex information models, mixing and matching topics in all sorts of fancy ways.


When FrameMaker or MS Word authors begin to retrain their conditioned minds to embrace and adopt DITA, they often experience a period of major angst! You know, that OMG shock of “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!” When you first start authoring in DITA, although the writing of content is fairly straight forward and the style formatting is all automated, you have to learn how to tag the content. And, if you have never thought about reuse, conditionalizing, filtering, how to identify what should be a topic, how to find reusable topics in a CMS, then you might feel like you are trying to climb Everest while simultaneously keeping up with the release schedule!!

Dita Never Fails

In my experience, DITA technologies never fail. The machinery works and delivers as promised when properly configured according to well thought out business and functional requirements.

However, if the people who are using DITA systems are not properly set up for success, it is possible that they will struggle deeply and develop a resistant mindset that DITA is a failure.

Proper change management and training is essential when transitioning to a DITA system. So is maintenance of the system, enabling it to grow with its authors and users.

Paying experts to plunk down a starter DITA system and then leaving it to inexperienced DITA authors and users expecting them to get the most out of it, does not guarantee success.

DITA is an investment in mature and efficient content automation and management technologies, in training and growth for the people who use these technologies, and in a future that has proven over many years and implementations to deliver a substantial ROI along with an abundance of productivity and soft benefit gains.

Keys to Success

In a nut shell, my secret to success has been …

  1. Provide proper change management, including early and ongoing communication with all effected team members. Make them part of the change process.
  2. Set up the initial system according to well thought out business and functional requirements.
  3.  Engage users of the system in Initial and ongoing training, providing experienced support as they work through their learning curve and growth with the system.
  4. Plan for periodic reviews with adjustments of the systems, processes, and training to ensure that they are all producing the results you expected to get from the transition to DITA.

Do this, and you can make the effort of transitioning to new DITA technologies an exciting growth journey for all involved. And remember, when taking a growth journey, a playful attitude never hurt.

Happy authoring folks!!

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2 thoughts on “Does DITA Fail?

  1. Desirae on said:

    Paula, I might add a couple of things to the discussion. What exactly do you mean by “authors”? Subject matter experts? It seems to get forgotten that “authoring” is so much more than arranging content for use and re-use in a Web site. Organizations must value ideas and maintain their integrity and quality. Second, while you mentioned analyzing requirements, you did not mention the importance of using a carefully thought out PURPOSE and OBJECTIVES to guide everything else—don’t the wrong tools get chosen because those things are neglected? With purpose and objectives established and respected up front, and technology serving people and ideas (not the other way around), thinking people ought to be able to accept change in their organization. If they aren’t accepting change, it probably isn’t because they are just geezers. They also might need some slack in their work load while they learn the new skills and tools. How often do they get that?

    • Desirae, I think you bring up some good points. DITA can fail if people don’t take the time to think about their business, brand, legal, and functional requirements. This is related to your point about purpose and objectives.
      Also, people need to plan their pilot carefully so that it truly reflects a microcosm of their larger content environment. The pilot is a litmus test to see if DITA can truly deliver on its promise.

      DITA can also be perceived to fail if people don’t track the proper metrics both before and after the DITA pilot and implementation. When these metrics are faithfully tracked and clearly communicated to organizational stake holders and team members, you can understand what successes you really have.

      As you mention about how training and people’s attitudes can make a huge difference, it all points back to how people can make the difference between success and failure when it comes to DITA and not the technology.

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