Re: Work... It's Gooberrific!!!

Subject: Re: Work... It's Gooberrific!!!
From: "Doc" <doc -at- vertext -dot- org>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 8 Aug 2002 15:11:14 -0400


I wasn't going to weigh-in on this discussion, but as Oscar Wilde once said,
"I can resist everything except temptation."


"Goober" <techcommgoober -at- yahoo -dot- com> wrote in message news:164336 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> ------------
> Love of Work
> ------------

I love my work. There is little else that gives me such a sense of
fulfillment. I will surely work until my eyes go dim and my brain ceases to
function, an event that some people may be waiting for with hope.

I have at least six shelves here in my office that are filled with books on
technical writing, usability, print production, web design, training design,
etc. Another two shelves are dedicated to books on management. Another three
sag under the weight of books on linguistics, cog psych, semiotics,
non-verbal communications and (believe it or not) neurology. We won't even
deal with the library boxes of magazines.

Software manuals are stacked on the floor and fill cartons in the closet. I
had to move all the literature and poetry to the bedroom and living room so
I could turn around without knocking stuff over.

But it doesn't surprise me that other people don't want to spend all their
waking hours immersed in this stuff.

> -------------
> Work vs. Life
> -------------

I'd rewrite that title, "Work is Life". I have found something I love to do,
and have been lucky enough to find people who are willing to pay me to do
it.

OTOH I don't expect those that work for me to bring the same zeal and
single-mindedness to their work.

> --------
> Overtime
> --------

I work overtime ... not because I have to, my work methods generally let me
complete what I'm doing within the appointed hours. I work overtime to try
out new tools and experiment with new methods.

I have only had one or two writers who have worked for me who have brought
that same kind of intensity. The others preferred to live more ordered
lives.

I did my best to make sure that they did.

> ------------
> Compensation
> ------------

Compensation goes beyond pay. Those who worked for me were paid for a 40
hour week. But the unwritten rule was, as has been mentioned, work until
it's done.

Well that's exactly what I needed to make the situation balance. If I am the
manager, then I am the interpreter of the rules for those who work for me.
My modified rule was: Work until it's done.

Which means, if you're not done and the deadline is tomorrow, work as late
as you have to to get it done.
BUT if you're done early and want to go for a walk, go shopping, or go home,
then go.

I like to make the (somewhat radical) assumption that those who work for me
are adults

> -----------
> Perspective
> -----------

There is a key element that Goober has left out of perspective, the quality
of technical and even upper level management.

I hope that Eric will forgive this analysis because it does apply to tech
writing, but it also applies across the board especially in high technology
companies. It may apply to you if you are a lead writer, manage or hope to
manage the department.

Managers don't know how.

The concept of the Dilberted manager is amusing, but it is badly flawed. The
scenario I have seen most often is as follows:

A senior technical person shows themselves to be capable of running a
meeting or is caught in the act of making a decision or some other
"managerial" task.

Successful management of a project is the most common indicator.

Upper management is astounded. "A geek who can manage," they exclaim in joy
and rapture!

Said geek is anointed with precious oils and the laurel wreath of management
is hung upon the brow of the victi ... uhhh ... chosen one.

With pomp and ceremony they are ushered into their office (with a door ...
so you can yell at people in there) they are shown their speaker phone with
the extensions of their subordinates programmed. "We expect great things
from you," exclaims the upper management priesthood as they depart to loot
the corporate treasury.

The manager stands their looking at their new domain. Sits, puts their feet
up on the desk, calls everyone they love (Hey Ma, guess where I'm calling
from ... ), calls everyone they hate (Hey schmuck, guess where I'm calling
from ... ), updates their resume (Manager, Documentation Department August
2002 - Current), changes their email sig to something more professional,
etc.

Eventually they stop preening and get back to programming, writing,
marketing or whatever they used to do.

One of their minions eventually approaches with a problem. My cat died, I
can't stand working with Pete, I need to take the next 20 days off and I
have no vacation time left. You know how life interferes with work.

The new manager solves the problem, often taking on extra work themselves or
creating an unstable situation by overloading others, but if they have some
project management experience they can deal with it.

But then the interesting problems start appearing: I need a raise or I'll
quit, It's time for the annual performance review, If Pete pinches my butt
one more time I swear I'm going to kill him.

Here's where the manager stops working on the stuff they've always done and
know how to do and starts to realize that they're over their heads.

This is the point of greatest potential failure.

There are a handful of alternatives available to the technical manager.

Bluff and Blusterer
-------------------
This is the overbearing jerk. The manager who says that it's your fault. You
signed on to do the job and if you don't like it you can just get out. They
will get away with it because people will quit or be intimidated into
subservience. Very few workers will try to jump the chain of command to
complain. When they do they often find that the manager's superior is as
clueless about what to do as the manager.

Caver
-----
This is the nice person. They deeply understand your pain and will do
anything they can to alleviate it ... except take action. If you want
sympathy, they've got it. You'll always get a good review because they don't
want to hurt your feelings. But so will the idiot who pinches your butt.

Buck Passer
-----------
Not my job, Go talk to Human Resources. Get out I've got work to do.

Waiter
------
Let's just wait and see if it all works out.

As you can see, all of the above solutions require no action, no taking of
responsibility. All these solutions are a means to get you to sit down and
shut up.

There is another type.

Realist
-------
This is the manager who says, "Holy S**t, I'm out of my depth. But this is
my responsibility." This manager suddenly recognizes that their job has
changed. It is a sobering moment for them. They realize that the company
depends on the project being released on time, but that the people who do
the work depend them as well. The realist now realizes that their job has
changed and that they are not equipped to do it.

The realist also faces the problem that no one in the company actually knows
how to manage. There is no one they can go to for guidance or training
because every other manager, whether technical or senior, has been thrust
into their position without any training in the new skills required. So the
realist digs into their own pocket and goes to training classes on
management, they buy books on management, they try to figure out what they
are supposed to be doing.

The company doesn't care. They provide little if any support or guidance.
Heaven forbid that they should waste time and money on management courses or
require some kind of standard. Upper management can't be bothered. The
workers can't afford to care.

There is another pitfall. The realist understands that the project does not
belong to them, but to the people who work on it. But the responsibility for
the project is theirs alone. Other managers use their employees as
scapegoats blaming them for delays and problems. The realist knows what the
manager is supposed to do and protects the workers.

Upper management (clueless as always) assumes that the realist is a failure
no matter what the level of productivity of their team, and that those who
blame their subordinates for failures are good managers with bad teams. Why?
Because that's what they would have done and that's how they think of
themselves.

So to bring this rant to a close ...

If you want to know who to blame for long hours, idiotic schedules, etc.
look at management.

Consider taking up a collection to send them to clue school.

-Doc
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
David 'Doc' Lettvin
VerText
"Versatile Text for reusability and globalization"
http://www.vertext.org
vox: +1.978.468.1105
fax: +1.775.248.0508

I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then
I remembered who was telling me this. -Emo Philips




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