Re: The software factory (was "Don't believe the hype?") (long)

Subject: Re: The software factory (was "Don't believe the hype?") (long)
From: "Mark Baker" <listsub -at- analecta -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004 10:26:43 -0500

John Posada wrote:

> I have figured out a way to produce "consistently, efficiently, and
> repeatably" and every product is unique. I don't do it with a formula
> and I don't do it like a factory worker.

I think a few factory workers might take umbrage. There are some pretty
sophisticated factories and some pretty sophisticated factory workers these

It is certainly not the case that factories today should be automatically
equated with mass production and product uniformity. While the demand for
individually customized products has perhaps been exaggerated (as the CMS
industry has discovered), it is certainly possible to create highly
customized products in a highly automated fashion. It is all a matter of
isolating the axes of variability in a product and then building a
data-drive automation system to product individual products according to the
specification contained in the data.

Does this apply to technical writing? Sure it does. The manual that came
with my cell phone consists entirely of button pushing instructions for
navigating a tree based interface to dozens of features that I will never
use. The format of the pages and the structure of the sentences is all
regular. In fact, it was probably written to an explicit style guide that
spelled out exactly how the sentences should read and how the layout should
look. If so, then the rules for creating that manual were fully specified
and the only difference between that manual and the one for the next phone
in the line was the organization of the menu tree -- something that could
easily be modeled as an XML file or similar data structure. All the pieces,
therefore, were in place for a data driven automation of the process of
creating that manual. But I'll bet it was done by hand by a technical

Is the technical writer's job vulnerable to outsourcing. Certainly. Has it
already been outsourced? Maybe. Could most of us tell the difference?
Probably not.

What's wrong with my cell-phone manual? There are no feature descriptions. I
know how to do everything, but half the time I don't know what the feature
does. How could technical writers fix that problem without driving up the
cost of the cell phone? Maybe by automating the generation of the button
pushing instructions and using the time saved to research and write feature
descriptions (which would themselves be single sourced for reuse in
different models).

Automation is not a panacea, of course. But it has significant potential to
improve productivity and quality is applied intelligently. The modern
data-driven factory has lessons that we might all profit from.

Mark Baker
Analecta Communications


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RE: The software factory (was "Don't believe the hype?") (long): From: John Posada

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