RE: TW and QA

Subject: RE: TW and QA
From: Emily Berk <emily -at- armadillosoft -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 2004 17:07:50 -0700

Two comments:

1. A friend of mine, who is indeed a Rocket Scientist at NASA, has pointed out that just as the privatization of the US armed forces is resulting in our currently unfolding disaster in Iraq, a similar privatization of NASA has resulted in disasters in the air.

Remember the space shuttle Columbia and its crew of seven astronauts that burned up in Winter of 2003? I understand that the investigation of it was pretty much of a joke. Wouldn't want blame to color our impressions of those private contractors. After all, they were carefully chosen by the politicians in charge. Neither QA nor TW can be held responsible when the entire development process has been compromised.

"A 34-page section of the report, 'Decision-Making During the Flight of STS-107,' recounts the now familiar tale of missed signals, botched imagery requests and a mission management team largely oblivious to the mortal danger Columbia and her crew were in.

The report details eight separate 'missed opportunities' during the 16-day flight, from NASA engineer Rodney Rocha's unanswered e-mail four days into the mission asking Johnson Space Center if the crew had been directed to inspect Columbia's left wing for damage to NASA human space flight chief William Readdy's failure to accept the U.S. Defense Department's offer to obtain spy satellite imagery of the damaged shuttle.

The report excoriates NASA management decisions during Columbia's last flight. 'Perhaps most striking is the fact that management . . . displayed no interest in understanding a problem and its implications. Because managers failed to avail themselves to the wide range of expertise and opinion necessary to obtain the best answer to the debris strike question . . . some space shuttle program managers failed to fulfill the implicit contract to do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of the crew.'


'The search for cost reduction led top NASA leaders over the past decade to downsize the Shuttle workforce, outsource various Shuttle Program responsibilities -- including safety oversight -- and consider eventual privatization of the Space Shuttle Program,' the report says. Over the past decade, according to the report, the program's purchasing power was reduced 40 percent and "repeatedly raided" to cover mounting space station bills.

Notably absent from the report is a detailed assessment of the roles that NASA's contractors played in the accident. While the report recounts the rationale behind NASA's decision to consolidate dozens of space shuttle operations contracts into a single contract awarded to the Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture United Space Alliance, the board stopped short in giving an opinion on the impact of that outsourcing effort on shuttle safety. ..."

2. It has been the case at most of the companies for which I've worked in the past few years that docs were not QAed (even for APIs) and comments and questions by the tech writer concerning the UI or other design issues were tolerated extremely poorly. The usual rationale is that there just isn't time to QA the docs so QA time and resources are not even budgeted for docs.

Blaming TW or even QA for these kinds of problems when they are actually the result of institutional failures is -- unfair -- at best.

-- Emily

On Wed, 20 Oct 2004 10:23:27 -0400, eric -dot- dunn -at- ca -dot- transport -dot- bombardier -dot- com wrote:
>bounce-techwr-l-106467 -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com wrote on 10/20/2004 08:50:51 AM:
>> The article described a stunning gap in QA. A failure of the gravity
>> switches would (and did) lead to the total loss of the
>> $264 million capsule.
>> Was there no way to test their functioning when installed
>> according to the drawings?
>The article showed not one gap, but many. Instead of their processes and
>testing resembling the "Swiss cheese" model (where there can be many
>holes/gaps but they don't line up to form a clear path), their processes
>and testing clearly had many critical paths to disaster and inadequate
>monitoring of those paths.


>Unless it can be shown that someone DID speak up, but was ignored, this is
>not a single point failure. It should be impossible for it to be a single
>point failure (and if it was a single point failure, it is actually two
>failures. Management has to shoulder as much, or more, blame as the
>failure point).
>A technical writer or someone tasked with focusing procedure writing may
>have caught the problem. But considering that none of the other job
>functions I've mentioned seemed in the least bit interested in the
>technical side of what they were doing, would the corporate culture have
>been broken by one more person on the team?

Emily Berk


ROBOHELP X5: Featuring Word 2003 support, Content Management, Multi-Author
support, PDF and XML support and much more!

WEBWORKS FINALDRAFT: New! Document review system for Word and FrameMaker
authors. Automatic browser-based drafts with unlimited reviewers. Full
online discussions -- no Web server needed!

You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as:
archiver -at- techwr-l -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Send administrative questions to lisa -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Previous by Author: Re: Blogging software-your opinions
Next by Author: Re: job application
Previous by Thread: Re: TW and QA
Next by Thread: TW & QA

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads