When Time is of the Essence

Subject: When Time is of the Essence
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Fri, 8 Sep 2000 15:26:34 -0700 (PDT)

Michael West sez....

> For one thing, it may be an act of sheer faith to assume that this
> so-called product will have users in a few months. I don't make
> a clear distinction between the user-assistance material and
> the product: they are usually part of the same package as far as
> the customer is concerned. Problems in one are usually a sign
> of problems in the other. That's what quality assurance
> processes are all about (those frou-frous Mr Plato refers to).

> I just think that Mr Plato's answer was way too glib to accept as
> a general solution to this sort of problem.

I don't think hard work and accepting challenges is glib.

When deadlines are looming and docs must be done, there is basically two
choices:

1. Piss and whine how the process isn't working and you need to setup a plan to
plan when your planning will plan to plan out the planning documentation plan
for documenting plans. (AKA: Waste time until the walls cave in and you can
blame management).

2. Bust ass, learn the product, write the docs. (AKA: Be a hero.)

Standing around obsessing over your plans and quality assurance processes may
sound like the "proper" professional thing to do, but that attitude is totally
misplaced when time is of the essence.

It is very possible to produce top quality documentation very quickly. The
trick is having a writer who knows the subject matter very well and can write
from experience. The other side of that coin is not falling in love with
*anything* for very long.

Scenarios like what Lori is facing are *very* common in high-tech. These
situations are not suitable for method junkies who need a crystal clear map
from chaos to content. I've watched hundreds of writers get fried to a crisp
at startups because they obsess over building a structure on top of a liquid
foundation. You can't do that, even if a Joanne Hackos book advises it. These
same writers typically blame the company for poor management, vision, quality
control, processes, 401K plans, etc.

Most of the time, the core problem is people who cannot handle complex, dynamic
environments. These people always want an analysis tribunal and a law written
into marble before they can move an inch. Ultimately, they try to blame
co-workers and management for their inability to handle chaos.

Welcome to the third dimension friends, home of much chaos.

I firmly believe that ALL writers, from time to time, should be able to handle

these fluid environments. It is REAL easy to sit in your ergonomically correct
castle surrounded by your internationally recognized process methodology moat
and tell the world they need to be more *pro-active* and *quality* concerned.
It is also super-duper easy to sit around and say things like:

I've worked for these "just crank it out" types, and every
one of them has gone down the gurgler in no time flat.

I'm sorry, but this is just one of those things that people say and it really
has no meaning. What kills start-ups is far more complex than failing to
implement documentation quality processes. I would say, one of the prime
reasons many places fail is the staff cannot handle chaos and change. One of
the overriding rules for building a good startup is to find energetic,
adaptable people who are willing to accept new challenges and conquer the
impossible.

Yes, there is a place for the process lovers of the world. Processes are great
for old, established groups where change is carefully controlled and
bureaucracy is treasured. These places I am sure feel very cozy inside their
quality initiatives and extensive planning.

Probably some day I too will sing the praise of risk-avoiding things like
process methodologies. But for now - I'll make my living helping pull companies
out of the fire. There is absolutely a time and place (and a market) for quick
and dirty docs.

Andrew Plato




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