Re: Pray for me

Subject: Re: Pray for me
From: "Jeanne A. E. DeVoto" <jaed -at- jaedworks -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 23 Jul 2000 17:25:26 -0700

At 10:42 AM -0700 7/23/2000, technical_writer -at- rte -dot- com wrote:
>I have a new assignment: "Do a context-sensitive HTMLHelp system for
>Product X [an automated medical device used in hospital operating rooms].
>The 400-page user manual needs to be in HTML, too. We need a working
>prototype of both, complete enough to satisfy the FDA, for the next
>product build on Thursday afternoon."
[additional horrors elided]

You know, there are times when it's appropriate to adopt Nancy "Just Say
No" Reagan as your personal guru, and this sounds like one of them. If it
were possible to do this task, by hook or by crook and with brilliance,
skull-sweat, clever use of other resources, and a couple of all-nighters,
I'd say "Go for it." Because that's the sort of
pull-the-project-out-of-a-hole stunt that can make you a hero within the
company. Taking responsibility for the seemingly impossible and pulling it
off is good for your career.

However, from what you've said, this project probably would not be doable
by Thursday even if it were turned over to a consulting firm with high
levels of expertise in all the needed tools plus an unlimited budget for
overtime. It's not realistic, and if you accept it as realistic, try to do
it, and fail, you will end up a goat - because your management clearly is
laboring under the delusion that they've given you a task possible of
completion, and if you don't complete it, it must be because you're
incompetent or lazy, right??? Right??? This is a situation in which it's
very difficult to defend yourself after the fact, so you must do it before
the fact.

Therefore, you must tell them bluntly that it is not within the realm of
human possibility to do this entire task by Thursday, no way, no chance,
nohow. Make this crystal clear. Back up your statement with an estimate of
the time to rough-draft this project, and a justification for your
estimate, including the specific factors (like the lack of styles in the
current manual) that affect that estimate.

Then offer to pull their chestnuts out of the fire: suggest alternatives
that you *can* do by Thursday. (For example, create an overview/TOC, and
select one or a few topics which can be made "live" enough for a demo.) The
rhetorical task here is to first show whoever has assigned this task that
they're in trouble - real, objective trouble, not just the tech writer
whining - and then to offer one or more solutions to their problem. They
may balk or complain, but I think you'll wind up in a much better position
than if you accept the assignment and they turn up at your office Thursday
and it's not ready. An entire help system, *plus* a conversion of 400
unstructured pages to HTML, all by Thursday? Absurd.

jeanne a. e. devoto ~ jaed -at- jaedworks -dot- com

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