RE: New TECHWR-L Poll Question

Subject: RE: New TECHWR-L Poll Question
From: "Steve Hudson" <steve -at- wright -dot- com -dot- au>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 22 May 2001 13:12:50 +1000

Dear Bill,
you get this reply for three reasons.

1) You had me ROFLing in the aisles last week whilst my SME was kicking my
head over func specs he didnt want to commit to

2) I have just finished said specs and the other writer is polishing up the
prototype HTML help system.

3) I have had BOTH experiences LOL!

First the finished product scenario. For the sake of brevity, I'll fudge the
truth a smidgin to keep it simple.

The preamble: Wright tech was developing a kick ass graphics package, but as
they were an R&D shop they needed buyers of the technology. As vc dropped,
the developers got understandably concerned and a mass bail-out of staff
ensued. A couple of programmers stayed, a mgr and a couple of admin blokes.

The product kept on being finished off, with no tech writer ever having
started the manual. Sure sure, there was a manual for the previous version -
a glorified treatise on the use of spin controls and list boxes :-( What
dodge and burn actually DID was another story, let alone some semblance of a
nested structure...

Then one day, along comes some vc. They don't panic, and slowly get it all
together, then start the re-recruitment process to debug the
all-but-finished product and get started on the next. One tech writer (moi!)
was brought on early to get the doco done. Inside of two months I had to:

a) create a style guide with the gfx designer - as there was none, and a
different and better look was required

b) embody the style guide in a template

c) QA/test the software

d) fix all the context strings

e) write the manual, all but from scratch

Needless to say I am not overly happy with the result, but its sure a darn
sight better than what we had before! The most amusing thing about this
process was I had NO SME's in a lot of cases - they had left. So now I
provide the tech support for product, as I know more than any other one
person :-)

Its not too bad a position to be in, as you at least have the product.
However, I was just plain lucky I had extensive experience in not only IT
but also print/publish so was able to "divine" a structure from the plethora
of functions. Let alone no serious UI work had been done on it from a
usability angle, so it was a bit muddled up in places... If it wasn't for
the initial structure stab being spot on, I wouldn't have made target.

Next - the "no product" to work with. Twas the job immediately prior :-)
Working for the national totalising agency as the documentation team
supervisor to punch out a product to monitor the pokies. Its called a
GIMMIC, the simple acro is Gaming Machine Interface. As if that wasn't bad
enough, its a wee blue box that sent encrypted signals to a local host which
then acted as a client to another host, which was a distributed processing
network. Needless to say, the GIMMIC was "unusable" - revert back to spec
sheets and voltage assessments :-( Most of the "host network" software,
worked so tightly with the other bits, there was almost "no usability".
Matter of fact - ideally the system runs itself and spits out "bad
behaviour" matches.

Then there was the political side. Only the duly authorised government
department representatives could actually have the "control" suite running,
and they had no idea what to do with it!

Sheesh. I spent most of my time buying the nicest business analyst drinks,
and praying that the business processes would end up correctly embodied in
the software so that my doco wouldn't be TOO far out. Dialogs - we were
lucky to see a VBA form being drawn up - forget actually INVOKING the
sucka - hell - the software needs to make it through the compiler first and
that aint happenning :-)

Everything was done from spec. Spec built spec built spec. New specs would
be required, we would grab the old ones, look for relevant bits, and make up
the rest with the help of the BA. Finally got a process in place where new
functions would be announced to the tech writers each build, so we could at
least stay just behind :-)

Slowly the government weedled its way into the project, until I was all but
disempowered, so resigned in disgust and put on my resume "Not interested in
any company paying mere lip-service to documentation". Several companies
balked at employing me, and the agencies gave me curry, I told em to stick
it - thats EXACTLY what effect I wanted. If they weren't serious about the
role of doco, neither was I. Then I got employed here after my usual
fortnight of hunting and have never looked back.

Steve Hudson
Lead Technical Writer
Wright Technologies (Aus)
steve -at- www -dot- wright -dot- com -dot- au
(612) 9518-1822
The best way to predict the future... is to create it!

-----Original Message-----
From: bounce-techwr-l-62124 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
[mailto:bounce-techwr-l-62124 -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com]On Behalf Of Swallow,
Sent: Tuesday, 22 May 2001 00:42
Subject: RE: New TECHWR-L Poll Question


I have to agree with Sean here. If you don't have a beta/working prototype
to work from, how do you get the docs out on time? Or does your company sit
on the release for a few months and let Doc play catch-up?

I don't think I've EVER documented a finished product. Everything I've
worked on has been in development, as when it's not in development, it's in
use by end users who need the doc to use the product... My ideal situation
is to hop on board a project at its conception and work with engineering,
QA, support, training, product management, etc. to help develop a solid
product from the get-go. I haven't hit that ideal yet, but have come close
several times.

I am VERY interested to hear how people document a product on-time AFTER
it's been fully developed. Or from no product at all... it pains and humors
me at the same time to know there are tech writers out there who document a
product without ever using it! HOW?!?! My fragile little mind wants to know!


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RE: New TECHWR-L Poll Question: From: Swallow, William

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