Re: Docs for profit

Subject: Re: Docs for profit
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 22 May 2001 09:01:47 -0700 (PDT)

John Lumsden wrote...

> A couple of project managers with large egos are demanding that I publish a
> couple of sets of documentation the way THEY want it rather than the way my
> staff and I think it should be published. No amount of
> reasoning/logic/argument has changed their minds. Since "He who pays the
> piper gets to call the tune", I have little choice but to cave in to their
> demands. The results will be documentation that, in certain places, is not
> done in accordance with good technical writing practices.

Every time I hear "good technical writing practices" or similar such statements
I smile. Because for every "good technical writing practice" there is an equal
and opposite practice preached somewhere else in the world as a "good technical
writing practice."

> This is a situation that many of us seem to encounter. It occurs to me, that
> it will continue to be this way as long as documentation is not a profit
> center. The archives contain some posts about calculating the cost or value
> of documentation, but I didn't see anything about documentation departments
> making money for the company. So I'd like to know, are there are any
> documentation departments out there that are operated as profit centers? If
> so, what is the business model used? Does it result in less interference
> from those who would tell you how to do your job?

My firm lives off profits from documentation. We are an service provider.
Companies outsource documentation projects (or their entire doc department) to
us. Without profit, we'd collapse. So in a sense, we are the purest form of a
"for profit" documentation department.

Our model is simple: whatever the customer/client wants, we deliver. If they
want us to violate the ten commandments of technical writing or whatever, we do
it with a smile. Because like you said, "he who pays the piper gets to call the

We also negotiate space with our clients. Some clients want tight control over
the docs, no problem. Some could care less what the docs are like and give us
a free hand. So we have to constantly adapt our methods to each customer. This
is the nature of any competitive market. Adapt or die.

While I don't always agree with my clients and their decisions, I sure don't
berate my point. I may make suggestions or attempt to steer my clients in one
direction. But if they are insistent on something - we do the job their way.

Moreover, it is A LOT more persuasive if you can tangibly demonstrate why
something is a bad idea. Just telling people "this isn't a good decision
because it violates this esoteric concept" is a weak argument. If you don't
know the concept (or don't care about it) the argument is completely toothless.

For example, I can tell everybody on TECHWR-L that attacking sentry guns head
on as Scout in Team Fortress Classic (TFC) is a completely stupid thing to do.
However, since most of you don't play TFC, nor even know what a sentry gun is -
such a statement is meaningless to you. But if we sat down and played together,
I could frag your sorry ass every 10 seconds if you did that, and my point
would be obvious.

This applies to many tech writing issues. Most people could care less about
"good tech writing practices." Its just all tech writing nonsense to them.
Thus your pleas for better documentation are meaningless to them. You have to
demonstrate why your ideas are better.

You'd be better off to do the job the way they want it, then show them in
blaring reality why their decision was dumb. Its hard to argue with results
(good or bad).

Andrew Plato

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