Where does the docs department fit? (Long)

Subject: Where does the docs department fit? (Long)
From: SteveFJong -at- aol -dot- com
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Sat, 7 Oct 2000 11:44:15 EDT

Geoff Hart <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA> wrote, "Count me in among the heathen, but
I don't think it really matters where on the org chart you put the
documentation group." He then went on the make some fine points (with which I
agree) about what a doc group needs to succeed. But I think I will take the
opposite side of the issue. In 25 years I've worked in different spots on
different org charts, and I think it does matter where the organization sits.

Where a group goes "on the org chart" really means who the boss is. Different
bosses are different people, with different levels of understanding and
interest in the work of their people. As Geoff said, if your boss understands
and values your work, that's great, wherever you're situated; but if not,
you're in trouble.

I once worked in a doc group doing networking docs for the networking
division. The corporate group was forever launching hostile takeover efforts,
but we reported to a divisional VP who thought we did good work, relied on us
to respond to his products' needs, and kept us independent. All was well.
Then we were reorganized under a VP of Shared Services (QA, Performance, Ops,
and Doc), who had no clue or interest in what we did. All he saw was his
largest and most expensive budget item. When business went bad, he asked each
group to save $250,000. We cut training (I think); the Ops manager raised his
chargeback rate to us, which effectively threw us back out of whack and
directly triggered the layoff of one of our administrative assistants.
(Apparently you can be a technical manager and not understand arithmetic.)
The next time the corporate group came knocking, the VP was only too happy to
unload us, whereupon our manager was immediately laid off and things went to

Whoever you work for will regard you as a resource to be used to further his
or her own goals. I worked at a startup for a doc group that reported to QA.
(Why? Because the first QA hire thought she could write, and when she became
the QA manager she kept her hand in.) Working for QA is OK--we both take an
"outsider's" view of products. But when the QA workload got heavy, she
naturally turned to the writers, part of her resource set, to pitch in.
Suddenly we were dropping everything to test software, not our forte and not
on our schedule. Mysteriously, the writing suffered.

Your value to the organization mirrors your boss's perceived value; when the
boss succeeds, you succeed; and when the boss fails, rightly or wrongly, you
fail, too. We went through several incompetent QA managers, and that stigma
attached to everyone in the group, including us.

It's great to work for engineering, because we share values and because we
want documentation considered part of the product. But when you report to one
of several peer managers, conflicts can arise. I worked for an Engineering
director in a structure of several directors. When a resource conflict
cropped up, my boss instinctively decided the writer should work on her
product rather than the one I'd assigned the writer to cover. (This conflict
got settled, not by me, but between my boss and her peer.)

Even when your reporting structure is right, there can be troubles if the
boss is bad. I worked in a doc group reporting to the VP of Engineering,
which is about perfect. But business went bad, and the doc director, to save
the jobs of himself and his managers, voluntarily laid off the entire writing
staff, retaining his managers to manage contractors that took over the work.
It didn't help that we ourselves were the contractors; it still sucked, and I
quit as soon as I found another job.

So yes, it matters where you sit!

-- Steve

Steven Jong, Documentation Team Manager (Typo? What tpyo?)
Lightbridge, Inc., 67 South Bedford St., Burlington, MA 01803 USA
mailto:jong -at- lightbridge -dot- com -dot- nospam 781.359.4902 [voice]
Home Sweet Homepage: http://members.aol.com/SteveFJong

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