Re: Early contracting experiences? Learning the haard way!

Subject: Re: Early contracting experiences? Learning the haard way!
From: Andrew Plato <gilliankitty -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 31 Aug 2002 11:29:43 -0700 (PDT)

<sclarke -at- nucleus -dot- com> wrote in message
> I'm wondering if some of you would share your early contracting
> experiences? The good news is: I'm working and many are not but *what* a
> way to learn. My goodness. I'm contemplating writing a survival manual for
> new tech writing contractors. This is my first contract.

You've had one contract and you're going to write a survival manual on
contracting? Don't you think you should get a little more experience first?

Would you trust a manual on how to fly an airplane from a pilot who flew a plane
only once?

> I have been working without a scope of agreement. Never really knew or
> understood "why" I needed one until now.

So make one up. Take an hour and write up a quick project scope report. If that
helps you focus your work - then make one up for yourself.

> My immediate supervisor changes
> his mind (and therefore focus and direction) more times in a day or two
> days than most people change their socks in a week.

Par for the course. Things change. Adapt, improvise, overcome.

> They have never been
> involved in a large scale technical documentation project before and have
> *no* idea what is involved in actually producing the deliverables or how
> long it takes.

Oh? How do you know that? Maybe they just don't share YOUR interpretation of how
long it takes.

Incidentally, what is "involved in actually producing deliverables." That's a
huge statement. What does it really mean?

> At this point I have 80% of the technical content in place
> for approximately 20 of the SOP's, therefore, according to the info I was
> provided, I have been thinking "good, I'm on schedule and we're just about
> where we *should* be.
> All they knew was 1) they had to start 2) they had to get technical
> content in place and 3) they had to finish by X date. Beyond that they
> were clue-less. I have endeavoured to fill in the blanks for them -about
> what needs to happen in between. My immediate manager truly refuses to
> believe how long it takes to produce this documentation-he thinks he know
> everything better than every body else.

That's how most managers behave. Indecisive managers are more ineffectual than
know-it-all managers.

> There has been *no* project scheduling and whenever I have suggested that
> we develop a detailed plan it has been rejected.

Par for the course. Clearly they don't want to stop and develop a plan so, you
have to accommodate their process. Trying to force them into using processes YOU
prefer will likely just make them hate you.

> I may now be in danger of being unable to fulfill my contractual
> obligations because of this bozo. My lawyer says I'm on the hook (legally)
> to finish the flipping project.

So get to work, get the docs done, and make them happy. Quit trying to make the
situation bend to your comfort level. Its not going to. Do the best you can and
FINISH the docs.

> 1) Even if you're truly green behind the ears and have some technical
> writing/publications experience and training-in many instances that still
> makes you a grreat deal more knowlegeable than clients. Seize control
> immediately and don't look back or you may find yourself truly truly sorry

Seize control of what? The company? The train? Your co-worker's minds?

Generally, companies don't rightly care for contractors with a "seize control"
attitude. Part of successful contracting is modifying and adapting your work
habits to fit within the environment of your employer. Some people are very good
at this while others are simply not. My advice would be - if your the kind of
person who has very fussy requirements for your work environment and work
processes - DON'T CONTRACT.

> 2) Don't listen to them-they don't know what they really want. Listen but
> don't listen if that makes any sense

Huh? Could you interpret this for me?

Actually, most places have a very good idea what they want. You have to work it
out of them. Telling writers to "not listen to them" is a really bad idea. What
you have to do is listen to them and then interpret what they want. You cannot
just automatically apply your biases.

> 4) Don't sign the contract until you're absolutely sure.

Well of course. This is common sense. If you need a manual to help you with
common sense, then you have bigger problems than bad working conditions.

> 5)If your prospective employer freaks out on you during the interview? Get
> up and run away as fast and far as you can. Do NOT look back. Do NOT
> accept the position if offered.

Once again - what do you mean "freaks out on you?" That's awfully vague. I mean
some people think asking about your past place of employment is synonymous with
"freaking out."

The real advice here is to use an interview productively. Don't just sit there
and allow yourself to be picked apart. Most people see interviews as a one-way
arrangement. Its not.

Use interviews as an opportunity to interview the employer as well. Determine if
that employer has the kind of environment you want. Ask questions about what they
are doing and what is expected of you. And if they don't have an environment you
find comfortable - then by all means - don't take the frickin' job. But if you do
take the job, you have to realize that you are going to have to adapt your work
habits to suit their environment.You are not likely to find a place that will
change its environment just to suit you.

This is ultimately the hardest lesson contractors must learn: adapt or die. You
cannot expect your employer to adapt to you. They expect you to adapt to them.
And if you won't adapt to their environment, then you are likely to have repeated
problems and eventually wind up on the bad end of a business relationship or even
a lawsuit.

Just because a company does things poorly doesn't mean its your job to make it
all better for them. As a contractor, you're hired to complete a discreet chunk
of work. Get your work done and get the hell out of there. You're not going to
make anybody happy if you spend all your time trying to re-engineer their
environment to suit your needs.

I'd hold off on writing that survivial manual, Sue, until you get a little more
experience contracting.

Andrew Plato

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