RE: Productivity Metrics

Subject: RE: Productivity Metrics
From: Dan Emory <danemory -at- primenet -dot- com>
To: rebecca rachmany <rebecca -at- COMMERCEMIND -dot- com>, "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 2000 09:49:16 -0700

At 09:21 AM 7/11/00 +0200, rebecca rachmany wrote:

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.
Rebecca is, of course, absolutely right. Consider the following activities:

1. Your company bids competitively for projects, and the cost of documentation must be included in the bid.
2. Your company is considering development of a new product, and the decision to go ahead with development will be based in part on the estimated project cost, including the cost of documentation if a significant effort in that area is required..
3. When a project manager is budgeting a project, someone must develop a budget and a schedule for the documentation effort.
4. When a writing manager is required to produce a weekly or monthly status report, some sort of percentage completion estimate for each project is usually required.

If a company can't perform these activities effectively, it won't stay in business. All of these activities require the use of different kinds of productivity metrics for estimating purposes. The best productivity metric, of course, is one derived from time card data, particularly when time cards are filled out to indicate not only the writing project but also the specific activity (e.g., research, writing, editing, illustrating, making engineering changes, reusing existing information). At project completion, the actual metrics can be calculated using the time card data and the number of pages produced.

It's interesting to note that, once again, most of the contributors to this thread find it necessary to differentiate writers from other departments in the company. For example: "Writing should be measured in terms of quality not productivity." As if quality doesn't matter in those other departments.

Note also that those who take that view want to replace something relatively concrete (productivity) with something more ephemeral (quality), yet few, if any of them, measure quality in terms of the only thing that counts: Usability.

In an earlier thread where the issue was whether structure and process should be imposed on writers, the argument was "On everyone else, yes, but not writers because we're different."

Then, there are those who say "Productivity shouldn't matter as long as there are profits." This view conveniently ignores the fact that few, if any, writing groups within companies are actual profit centers. More relevantly, should the publisher of the Harry Potter series ignore the cost per book because, even if it's a bit too high, they'll be rolling in profits anyway?

| Nullius in Verba |
Dan Emory, Dan Emory & Associates
FrameMaker/FrameMaker+SGML Document Design & Database Publishing
Voice/Fax: 949-722-8971 E-Mail: danemory -at- primenet -dot- com
10044 Adams Ave. #208, Huntington Beach, CA 92646
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