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I know I am going to get flamed for this one, but...
The debate over productivity metrics reeks of an intractable reluctance to
admit that such a thing might be viable. For those of you who contract, you
*must* have some kind of measurement in place, unless you always charge by
the hour. Most technical writing companies I know of have per-page or
per-character rates as well as hourly rates. The whole concept that you
can't measure technical writing productivity seems to be some kind of excuse
for getting out of measuring ourselves. It's much nicer to go to management
and say "sorry, can't measure" than to actually analyze what you are doing.
I have found measuring my own productivity on a per-character basis to be
incredibly enlightening, not to mention that it increases my productivity.
Those of you who have studied productivity know that just measuring
something will make it go faster. I've heard of cases where factory output
was increased just by hiring a guy to walk around with a stopwatch, standing
next to workstations and looking at the watch (probably just an urban
legend, but there is wisdom in the parable). This is basic, basic
management. We love to hate management, but the truth is that these things
are legitimate and they DO work. Even if management doesn't measure you, if
you are responsible about your work, you should be measuring yourself. I
have been working on an employee/retainer basis for the past few months, but
I have kept careful track of how much I produce, because even if I get paid
as an employee or on an hourly basis, I feel responsible for keeping track
that the employer gets what they are paying for. When I get paid on a
per-character or per-page basis, I time myself, too, just for "fun". Well,
actually, it keeps me focused and prevents me from dawdling.
I worked in contracting for a number of years, and the company I worked with
charged primarily on a per-character basis. When we did productivity
statistics, we found that the complexity and type of system were not the
major influences on productivity (we assigned writers with the appropriate
technical background). In fact, we found that there were not significant
differences between hardware and software documentation when measured on a
time-per-character basis. The largest influence was the "critical mass"
factor. That is, it takes a lot more time per page to produce a ten-page
document on a system than to produce a thousand-page document on a system,
because there is an initial start-up cost (learning curve). Once a writer is
familiar with a system, re-writes and feature enhancements should go faster.
But other than that, there were not huge differentials because of the type
of thing being documented. But you don't have to take my word for it. When
you are creating your own productivity statistics, if you find something
different, by all means, bring that to management.
You can argue all you want, but you know who your most productive employees
or colleagues are. Picture them now, and think about what you mean by
"productive". In your head, I bet you are thinking about "productive" in
terms of the quantity of good documentation they put out, in pages. If you
have a reasonable QA/Editing staff in place, the quality is relatively
consistent within your department. Not only that, but you know which of your
staff consistently "cost" more to those editors. Anyone who says she doesn't
know who is more productive on her staff is simply shirking her
responsibilities as a documentation manager, or trying to be nice, which
amounts to the same thing.
There is a legitimate fear that, when management comes around to measure
stuff, they are going to try to cut out the people who aren't living up to
some particular standard. This is when you need to use the Plato Perfect
Productivity Parameter = money. You might want to try to quantify the
cost-benefit of documentation, and then when management comes around saying
"so-and-so works too slowly", you can say "but so-and-so is still working at
a profit". If so-and-so isn't, you as doc manager should be doing something
to get him up to snuff. I don't want management breathing down my neck,
either, but what they are asking is not only legitimate, but realistic and
measurable, and furthermore, their responsibility.
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rebecca -at- commercemind -dot- com