RE: More on Validating documentation

Subject: RE: More on Validating documentation
From: "Jane Carnall" <jane -dot- carnall -at- digitalbridges -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2002 16:43:30 -0000


>So, in your experience, are relationships with developers
really as non-existent or dysfunctional as some threads on
TECHWR-L would suggest? Is there really no sense of
"we're all working together to make this overall product
as good as we can make it"?<

I doubt it. Except to start a thread like this, who posts to the list with
the news that "I have a great relationship with my SMEs and we produced a
terrific product, with great documentation, no problems." People use this
list as a safe space to complain about bad relationships - not, generally,
to praise good relationships.

Generally speaking, I've had good (or, at minimum, neutral) relationships
with SMEs. I get respect from them as a professional, I give them respect as
professionals, sometimes we have issues about reviewing and feedback,
sometimes I find a bug they didn't spot, sometimes they find a bug I didn't
spot. I'm usually the known Word maven in the office, and invariably the
known word maven, too. Sometimes I get good ideas about adding to the
documentation with the things I hear, and I'm routinely included in the team
meetings for projects (either by managerial invitation or by turning up with
a notepad and saying "It's okay if I sit in on this meeting?")

>If so, are _you_, as a tech writer, part of the solution,
or part of the problem, or both? Why?<

I've had bad relationships with two or three SMEs. In all cases, the problem
started with the lack of good socialisation around work - not necessarily
going out to the pub or out to lunch, but just conversations over coffee,
etc.

In one case, my fault/his fault about equally: I should have tried harder,
but the man was a Wally with delusions of being Dogbert and didn't see any
reason why he should try at all. (I still remember, though I wish I didn't,
his detailed explanation of how he managed to live in the centre of
Edinburgh, work in the centre of Edinburgh, drive his car to work and back,
and never pay any parking fees.) Ahem. Sorry. Got carried away there. That
was a case where personal antipathy ended up souring a professional
relationship: unique in my experience to date. (If he'd been less of a
talker, and if I hadn't been in the desk facing his, we'd probably have got
along better. We might also have got along better if I'd thought to buy
earphones. Or just earplugs.*) It was my first job, what can I say? My bad.

In a different job, two SMEs were having an affair, and managed to cut
themselves off from the rest of the team at work - never went to coffee at
the same time as everybody else, tended to eat lunch separately, didn't
stand around swapping gossip, and effectively turned themselves into a
mini-team of three people - themselves and the other programmer involved in
the project. Within that team, they seemed to work fine - at least, the
other programmer never complained. They had bad working relationships with
everyone outside their mini-team, though, not just me. (I'm not arguing that
you shouldn't get personally involved with people you know at work. Just
that it's probably not then a good idea to assign the two people who are
personally involved to the same project.)

There was also a situation where due to a documentation manager who wanted
to build a power base, the technical writing team were deliberately cut off
from the SMEs and not allowed to build good relationships outside work. Our
work relationship tended to deteriorate, too. Not a good situation, but also
unique in my experience.

Jane Carnall
The writers all stand around a cauldron chanting and occasionally tossing in
a small SME. Unless stated otherwise, these opinions are mine, and mine
alone. Apologies for the long additional sig: it is added automatically and
outwith my control.

*am fighting not to add "or a gag". But I lost. Sorry.


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References:
More on Validating documentation: From: Eric J. Ray

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