Less Real Value is More

Subject: Less Real Value is More
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2000 12:23:25 -0800 (PST)

--- HALL Bill <bill -dot- hall -at- tenix -dot- com> wrote:

> The discussion on this issue so far reminds me of the range wars between the
> cowboys and the sod busters. A lot more heat has been generated than light -
> I think it is unfair to dismiss Andrew Plato as a cowboy - but Andrew is
> getting bogged down in an illusory issues of supposed costs and limitations.

There is nothing illusory about writers spending hundreds of hours fiddling
with tools when they should be writing. Every hour not spent
writing/editing/producing is an hour lost to one-off work.

> However, as I will amplify below, the
> entry cost to begin structured authoring is trivial and is not a valid issue
> for this debate.

It isn't trivial:

Tools: $?????.??
Implementation time: $?????.??
Training: $?????.??

There are NUMEROUS expenses that are easy to ignore because they don't seem
real. In fact, if one writer is not writing but managing a large documentation
system, you now have overhead.

Consider this Structured Doc System Scenario:

You work in a doc group with 10 writers. Each writer has average salary of
$75,000 a year. That's $750,000 a year. You decide to install BIZBLASTER

While this project is being implemented you lose one writer to the
implementation, management, and training of this new system. That means you
have to hire another writer to take that writer's place.

Now you're up to $825,000 a year.

You have to pay consultants to implement the system. Let's say that sets you
back another $50,000. Now you're at $875,000 a year. Tools cost $10,000.
Hardware costs, lost time. miscellaneous costs...etc.

Suddenly your time saving system has added and extra $200,000 to the tech pubs
budget. That's not trivial.

Now, in tech pubs, getting a doc done in 5 days or 10 days does not really save
the company any money. It saves time, but when people are on salary - you're
paying them the same amount whether they produce 1000 docs a month or 1. Hence
the only way to REALLY save money is to fire a writer. However even if you fire
one writer, it will still take 2.66 years to recoup that expense. I can imagine
there will be on-going expenses as well. To be truly cost effective, this
system would likely have to put 3 to 4 writers out of work.

In my experience, large complex systems DO NOT reduce staff. They just divert
staff into other avenues of work.

Try running a profitable business for a few years. You quickly begin to realize
that most new technologies are a COMPLETE waste of money. They just chew up
more time getting them work. They also just divert people off their real jobs.

I am reminded of how life was at our firm when we switched from a rudimentary
email system to Microsoft Exchange 5.5. I must have spent 200+ hours getting
that email system up and running. Sure, now it works, but it cost me close to
$20,000 in lost billable time. The only reason I did it was because *I* could
do it. I didn't have to pay any consultants or staff time.

> Also, as I will also document, many technical authors who
> have made the shift to structured authoring believes it actually frees them
> from a lot of unnecessary baggage in the MS Word environment to focus 100%
> of their effort on the actual creative effort to better formulate their
> knowledge for the end user.

Yes, I hear prisoners often talk about FREE they feel.

There is no way to adequately measure this. Some writers I am sure feel very
comfortable working in a world of rules and regulation. However, plenty of
other writers like a little freedom.

Templates and styles are fine, but it is presumptuous nonsense to think that
because writers have "less control" they will be better writers. Consistency is
NOT the same as quality.

> But then,
> aren't technical authors supposed to be the absolute masters of learning
> about new technology?? I accept that this learning curve cannot be
> trivialised, because structured authoring represents a truly revolutionary
> change in the writing process

No it doesn't. You act like "structure" is some new fangled thing that we all
just discovered. I recent read a medical text from 1895. It was quite
fascinating to see how people thought about medicine and health back then.

The book was quite logically organized, read well, and used ample graphics to
illustrate the ideas. An excellent example of quality technical documentation.

How did they do this? No XML, no DTD, no PDQ!!!!!!

The author used the most powerful documentation system ever created in the
history of the universe - his brain.

The great thing about using brain, is that each writer comes with one
pre-installed. Some writers have better brains than others, but ALL brains have
the capability to organize ideas logically. Brains have been logically
organizing documents eons before any of us were born and they will eons from
now. Personally, I prefer the raw, unbridled power of my brain over some
computer software.

Moreover, the ROI on using your brain is phenomenal. All you have to do is feed
it tacos and - BAM! It produces documents! Show me a DTD that can do that!

> None of our authors who have worked in the FrameMaker+SGML environment would
> agree with Andrew that they are drones or that the structured authoring
> environment impairs their creativity as technical authors in any way. On the
> contrary, it frees them from the continual formatting/production hassles and
> crises that inevitably arise in the Word environment.

Oh I am sure they are convinced what they have is the best thing in the
universe. This is how ALL people think. My knowledge is correct, proper, and
effective and yours is flawed, wrong, and evil.

> To conclude, where appropriate DTD's and templates, etc. already exist, the
> business case to use structured authoring for new documents in place of MS
> Word is trivial.

It isn't trivial. Its a big issue that any company should be very careful
implementing. They need to ask themselves some hard questions...is this REALLY
worth it.

> Authors who have less formal
> training with Word (e.g., bid developers) may waste as much as half their
> writing time with Word hassles.

Word is a perfectly good tool. Like ALL tools, if you use it wrong, it will
hurt you. Word is very flexible and can do many things - which means many
different types of people can use it. In today's world, flexibility is more
valuable than control. This is why the market share for Word is like 900 times
the size of FrameMaker or other tools. It can meet the needs of more people.

This notion that Word is somehow keeping writers from producing docs is insane.
What keeps writers from getting docs done? Procrastination, ignorance, and
bureaucracy. Word is just a scapegoat that people like to use so they can feel
more "authoritative" about their jobs.

The truth is if you can't make decent docs in Word, buying a million dollar
documentation system will not make you write docs one single tiny iota better.
It just adds more plumbing to the process.

Andrew Plato

Blow more sunshine: http://members.home.com/aplato

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