Summary of Responses: Whirlers and Environments (Long)

Subject: Summary of Responses: Whirlers and Environments (Long)
From: Sheldon Kohn <Sheldon -dot- Kohn -at- onlineinsight -dot- com>
To: "'TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM'" <TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2000 10:30:12 -0500

Hello All,

Thanks to everyone who responded to my inquiry about the type of writer most
likely to do well in a start-up environment and what management needs to do
to keep those people committed and dedicated for the long-term. I received
more than 30 responses, and I am providing a list of summarized and
paraphrased points for the benefit of the list. I apologize in advance if I
misstated anyone's ideas.

Many of the comments identify good employees and good managers in any

What type of whirler does well in a start-up environment?

* Avoid hiring people who have worked in large companies with
structured documentation departments
* Be a former contactor or consultant
* Be a generalist rather than a specialist, able to do a bit
of everything
* Be a person who can work independently and who can also be a
part of a team
* Be a quick study
* Be able to deal with developers
* Be able to produce documentation with minimum time for
* Be able to tolerate ambiguity and chaos
* Be able to work long hours in a crunch or when there is a
* Be able to work with a wide variety of people
* Be able to write well and clearly
* Be enthusiastic about the technology the company is using
and eager to learn more about it
* Be flexible enough to change as projects change, not be a
slave to process
* Be productive from the first day
* Be self-confident yet able to listen to input from other
team members
* Be self-motivated
* Be willing to do "whatever it takes" to get the project
* Be willing to do some of the "unfun"/"unglamorous" tasks
necessary to produce documentation
* Be willing to work with other groups, like MarCom, when
* Believe that quality is relative
* Do not need structure
* Have a history of completing deliverables on time
* Have thick skin
* Have experience in a start-up
* Have experience organizing and presenting complex
* Ideal environment for multi-taskers
* Know how to make himself/herself heard without being
* Not be bound to a job description
* Not be interested in office politics
* Not be risk-averse

What can management do to ensure these people remain committed and
productive for the long-term?

* A good example is the best teacher
* Allow telecommuting, when appropriate
* As usual, there is wide difference of opinion on the value of having
a defined process
* Ask writers what they want, and then provide it
* Avoid restrictive job descriptions
* Avoid restrictive process
* Be flexible: flex hours are important.
* Be truly committed to documentation, not just provide lip-service
* Do not make technical documents into marketing brochures
* Encourage and reward learning
* Ensure that writers know that they are critical to the company's
overall success
* Include the writers on the development team
* Invest in the necessary tools, technologies, and training
* Keep writers informed and involved in the overall project
* Let writers control their own projects
* Maintain a collaborative, open environment
* Make sure that everyone in the company knows that documentation is a
part of his or her job
* Management needs to demonstrate that they think through projects,
that they do not just dish them out
* Provide as much independence as possible
* Provide food when the writers work long hours
* Provide fresh challenges
* Provide meaningful stock options
* Provide unusual rewards for a job well-done
* Really care about the writers' work
* Really listen to writers' ideas
* Tolerate mistakes
* Truly interesting work is often the most important motivating factor

My favorite bit of advice: "Enjoy the challenge and have fun!"
My favorite quote about management: "Tell me to shut up, it's not my
problem, and the next document I'll be working on is a resume."

My Conclusions:

I was pleased to receive confirmation that my company is doing things people
said that they most wanted to see from management. I am a member of the
development team; all future writers we hire will also be members of the
development team. When we have to work on a project so intensely that we do
not have time for a break, the company provides lunch and dinner. In
recognition of our work in getting a release out in the face of what
everyone thought was an impossible deadline, the company is sending the
entire development team, including spouses and children, on a three-day
cruise to the Bahamas. We also have meaningful stock options.

The responses also gave me a lot to think about, as we are approaching the
point of adding our second technical writer. After reading the responses, I
am leaning strongly towards hiring an experienced person first, and then
adding junior-level people. I am also looking ahead to the time when we will
have multiple writers and am trying to define the delicate balance of
establishing a process that helps writers do well, but that is not
overbearing or that stifles creativity. As several respondents noted, this
is a fine line. Most of all, it is good to be reminded to keep all this in
perspective and to enjoy what I am doing.

Thanks to all who responded. This list is a wonderful resource.

Sheldon Kohn
Senior Technical Writer
Online Insight, Inc.

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