There here to there

Subject: There here to there
From: "Roger Shuttleworth" <RShuttleworth -at- visualplant -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 23 May 2003 10:01:26 -0400

Hello TechWrlers

I'd like to garner the collective wisdom of the more senior members
regarding my situation here. In a nutshell, I am the only tech writer in
this 80-employee software company, and am getting frustrated with things
are they are. So here goes (trying to be objective here...):

My title is Senior Team Lead, Documentation. Ironic, because there is no
Junior Team Lead, and there is no team. I'm it. I am officially part of
R&D, which has a manager; an assistant manager of development, over
about 15 programmers; an associate manager for QA, over a team of about
6; and myself, over a team of...well, we covered that already.

I spend most of my time doing the usual TW tasks - researching,
designing, writing, editing, etc. I do user manuals, Help, and training
materials, all single-sourced. Not a good idea for the training manuals,
at least, but there it is. At present we are towards the end of the
development cycle, so it's time to write, write, write. Meanwhile, in
other departments, other people also create documents, some of them
long, and some of them pretty crappy. Yesterday I saw, for the first
time, a 100-page manual from a third-party partner, and that was crappy
too. I was surprised to hear that one day soon we shall be "taking
ownership" of this manual, crappy or not. It will need at least a week
of work to get it into shape even as regards formatting, styles, etc.,
let alone the content. Developers are creating white papers, others are
creatng supplementary documents for customers, etc. etc. Many of them
re-use content that I have created in the past. It's a content
management nightmare, a waste of time, and often doesn't reflect well on
the company.

Recently one of the developers informed me (in a broadcast e-mail) that
the Help system for the new version would be presented in a different
way from previous versions. So that suddenly became a pile of work, too.
I think he just decided it was a good idea.

I send out documentation plans for discussion. No response. Guidelines
for third-party documentation. Ignored. Word templates. Used now and
then, but only with horrendous re-formatting. No specifications, no
design documents, just wait till the software's ready, then you can
being documenting, right?

Am I painting a picture of lack of processes, ineffectual management, no
communication, nobody thinks to inform the lowly TW?

Meanwhile, after months of lobbying, I gained agreement to hire a second
writer. Only during the interviewing stage, I learned that we now have a
hiring freeze on. I was supposed to have been told. After some loud
protests, I was allowed to hire someone on a 3-month contract with a
view to permanency if things improve financially (if they don't, of
course he'll be the first to go). Fortunately, the candidate was
prepared to accept it. As for me, I either hack away at producing some
kind of manual (forget audience analysis or usability!) in time for a
release date that is...well, last I heard, sometime in the near future.

So now I need to know: How do you get from here to my hypothetical
Documentation department, in which we (we?) take ownership of most of
the documents that go out to customers (marketing excepted [shudder]),
are included in the decision-making process (assuming there will be one
some time in the future), manage content, generally have some clout
around here, and gain some respect? At present I am so busy with the
grunt work (which nobody reads anyway, they just assume it's there and
it's good; even my immediate manager has no idea how it's done) that
these larger issues just cannot be addressed. I think we need a team of
writers who can manage all these document types, while I (Senior Team
Lead, no less) can concentrate on some of the more strategic issues for
the future, and go to endless meetings where things are decided but not
acted upon.

Seems to me that if you do a good job, you're forgotten; if you do a bad
job, you're incompetent. And I guess I'm one of those people who can't
present them with a bad job just to prove I need help?!

Please be kind.

Roger Shuttleworth
London, Canada


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