Re: risk assessment

Subject: Re: risk assessment
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 06 Mar 2002 07:45:08 -0500

Warning! Land mines!


I'm sorry I missed Jane's original post that you responded to, so this may be out of context. If so, I apologize and offer an Emily Litella Never Mind!

The phrase "risk assessment" contains a land mine for tech writers because it has two orthogonal meanings, and it is generally unclear which is meant unless you ask pointed questions.

In an engineering context, risk assessment is a formal process in which you analyze a product and tabulate what can go wrong, how likely it is for each of those things to go wrong, and what the consequences are. In the case of user documentation, having a page break between "push the red button" and "after cutting the blue wire" would constitute a low-probability, high-consequence risk.

In a business context, risk assessment has to do with financial business risk--not environmental risk, the personal safety of product users, or the health of factory workers making the product. If we release the product two months later than planned, how much smaller will our market share be? If we release it on time but without several key features, how will that affect sales? In the case of user documentation, releasing poor-quality docs on time is lower risk than releasing tested, edited, commercially printed docs three weeks late--exactly the opposite of what an engineering risk analysis would conclude.

The Big Problem is that when a project manager lists "risk analysis" as a bullet point on a PowerPoint slide at a department meeting, you can't tell whether the manager is wearing his engineering hat or his corporate management hat. In fact, the manager may not know which sense of the phrase applies; he may be listing a requirement from a corporate process document and the manager may himself be misinterpreting the meaning.

So before you do anything relating to risk analysis, trace the requirement back up the corporate tree as far as you can--preferably to the source--and be sure you know which meaning applies before you actually begin the work.


Jeff Allen wrote:

Does anyone have a list of examples of risks that are specifically related
to the technical writing field? I am making creating a risk assessment list
right now and want to make sure not to forget to include any types of
potential risks. My specific area is software documentation and related
technical documentation. I would be willing to provide a summary list of the
risks to TECHWR-L.

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risk assessment: From: Jeff Allen

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