Re: It's a new millennium. Will companies ever learn?

Subject: Re: It's a new millennium. Will companies ever learn?
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 5 Jan 2001 10:34:27 -0800 (PST)

"Chuck Martin" ...
> A chunk of a job posting today on craigslist:
> "...seeking a
> talented Technical Writer to work on a cutting-edge E-Business project on a
> two- to three-week contract basis. The
> Technical Writer will create a user manual for a custom written web
> application. Documentation will include graphics, screen
> shots, and flow carts. Duties include interviewing developers and users as
> well as compiling and formatting existing

> documents. "
> Now putting aside the content and organization of "existing documents"
> probably aren't anything close to ready for users, this means doing a manual
> form scratch in 2-3 weeks.

A skilled, experienced contractor could do this in 3 weeks. It would be a busy
3 weeks, but it is possible. Without knowing the details of the project you
can't assume this can't be done in 3 weeks.

> Even in this allegedly enlightened age, technical
> communicators still are not part of the development process, but rather
> brought in at the end, when the product is nearly complete.

There are good reasons to sometimes leave writers out until the end. 1) Save
money, 2) Save time. What will the writer do while they are developing the
project? You can't write docs to something that doesn't exist. Sure it is nice
to be around during those phases to watch the process, but most writers just
jerk around doing wasteful one-off work waiting for the developers to finish
the product.

The conventional wisdom that all writers must be standing around from the
moment a project begins just don't hold all the time. When money is tight, such
luxuries are abandoned. There is also no reason to have a writer wasting time
and money on plans when such work can be done quickly at the end.

> A lot of these
> new companies are being run by people who used to be at previous companies,
> in some cases, several companies. Aren't these people learning anything?
> And who is going to have time to find and schedule time to interview users
> in 3 weeks?

Many smaller companies simply do not think it is important to have technical
writers around from the beginning of a project. I believe this attitude comes
from two sources:

1. Lack of money.
2. Experience with bad tech writers.

There is a LOT of bitterness out there toward tech writers. Many engineers,
CTOs, and upper managers think writers are a waste of money. And honestly, a
lot of writers ARE a waste of money because they don't write anything. They sit
around fussing and obsessing over fonts and gerunds demanding processes nobody
wants and procedures nobody will follow.

We just started working with a technology firm in Silicon Valley. The CTO
recently left a very large company. He made it clear to me from the get-go
that if any of the writers failed to write documents he would fire them on the
spot. I am paraphrasing, but he told me numerous stories of writers he hired
who argued all day over fonts, build detailed plans they never followed,
complained again and again that they couldn't do their jobs. Basically, he was
sick and tired of people calling themselves writers when they didn't want to
write anything.

> At what pooint does it sink in that maybe it's no longer a matter of us not
> fully educating the powers that be as to the value we do bring during the
> whole process, but simply a matter of (a) simply stupid people still running
> the shows not knowing what a fully staffed team needs, or (b) stupidly
> frugal people running the processes who aren't willing to fully staff teams
> from the start?

I think this is a simple issue of value-add. Many writers fail to consistently
prove their value to the team. They fail to show how they can directly help
the process of producing products and technologies.

A lot of people still haven't learned that results speak much louder than
plans. Nobody cares if you have a great plan. The results are what matter. If
you cannot produce results, your a waste. A good writer is resourceful and can
produce quality results in a less than ideal situation.

However, most writers in less than ideal environments throw up their hands and
bitch endlessly about how the world doesn't understand their needs. Boo hoo,
tell it to the unemployment office.

This attitude is summed up in the fact that many writers take months and years
to write documents that could easily be done in days or weeks. If you cut off
all the unnecessary planning and just sit down and jam out the docs, you can
get a lot done.

I don't think this is an issue of "when Will companies ever learn", I think
this is an issue of "when will the tech writers ever learn?"

Andrew Plato

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