Calling all "Lead Writer" or "Information Architects" -- what do you do?

Subject: Calling all "Lead Writer" or "Information Architects" -- what do you do?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 22 May 2004 07:54:23 -0400

Katheirne Morgan reports: <<I've recently been prompted to "Lead Technical Writer" at my company.>>

Congrats. (BTW, should that first name be Katherine? Picking nits, but you may want to fix this in your sig.)

<<The bad news -- my actual responsibilities in that role are unclear. I'm having a real disagreement with my manager about how my responsibilities should change.>>

You know rule 1 of corporate life, right? "The manager is always right, even if they're wrong." The key here is to understand that your manager is promoting you for reasons of their own--probably to reward you for exceptional work. If you have a different agenda, you have to persuade the manager to accept your vision of the position. If you can't do that, see rule 1. If you can't live with rule 1, then you need to either refuse the promotion or work elsewhere. That being said:

<<Currently, I do the bulk of the writing for our team of 4. I'm proposing that, as lead writer, I become more of a facilitator, doing things like mentoring other writers, doc project management, writing (as an overflow writer), interacting with other teams (such as, development, QA, product management, etc.), problem solving for our team (process, tools, deliverables, etc.) To me, all these things are the role of a "lead writer".>>

These are all reasonable goals, but there are two problems. Deal-killer 1: You do the bulk of the writing. The manager quite properly fears that all these added responsibilities will prevent you from keeping up with your writing work, and the deadlines will get missed or quality will suffer. Deal-killer 2: Sounds to me like you're trying to take over duties that _your_ manager is already doing, and they may resent that.

Solution? At least initially, avoid the roles your manager enjoys (e.g., interacting with other teams) if that's a stress factor for them. Then, you can aim for a compromise that eliminate's the other objection. For example, state clearly that before taking on new duties, you will teach the other writers well enough to bring their productivity and quality up to your level, thereby freeing up time for you to work on other roles. When the boss has been convinced that everyone's working better and that his needs (deadlines) are being met, you can ask for more responsibilities.

This won't happen overnight; change is scary for everyone, and particularly for managers (because things are going well now, and they don't want to fix what isn't broken). Plan to take some time to "grow" into the position you're seeking. It's been said that "managers can't be promoted until someone can step into their role". This is true, but misleading. If there's no room for your own manager to be promoted, your ability to step into their role by taking on the various responsibilities you described will be seen as a threat.

<<My team DESPERATELY want me performing in the former way -- as the facilitator, mentor, project manager, and leader.>>

See above. Explain to them that you'd love to help them in this way, but can't do so until they improve their productivity enough that you have free time to take on the new duties. Don't in any way blame them; phrase this as "I'd be adding 5 hours of work to my week, and can't add those hours unless we can figure out a way for you folks to take over 5 hours of my work". Build from there.

<<I'm interested in how people function as a lead writier or IA.>>

Though interesting, this is also irrelevant. The key to this situation is not knowing what others are doing, but lies instead in an understanding of the human aspects of your own specific situation. Focus on those first.

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)


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