Re: # of writers to developers

Subject: Re: # of writers to developers
From: Dick Margulis <margulisd -at- comcast -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 28 Apr 2005 10:06:17 -0400

Frances McGill wrote:

I have posted a question about ratios previously and received comments such
as "ratios don't matter, it the amount of work required", and "you have to
look at all the factors including page count, etc.," and these are indeed
valid comments with which I agree. However, some companies insist that there
are indeed ratios and plan and budget projects accordingly. This makes sense
to a degree too. To have a 1 to 1 ratio of writers to developers may be an
ideal solution, but financially not feasible. So, I would appreciate it if
you could tell me how many developers there are in your company vs the
number of writers.


You are asking two, no, three, unrelated questions, although you may not realize it yet. Let me explain.

One question has to do with best practices. In an organization within a given category, what is the best practice in terms of the ratio of writers to developers? This is an answerable question if we know what the category is. If "developers" means people with engineering degrees engaged in product development, then we have to know what sort of product--retail software, enterprise software, medical devices, telecomm equipment, agricultural machinery, molded plastic toys, whatever. With the answer to that question, some research into the best practices literature for the specific industry (trade journals, analyst white papers, etc.) should yield an answer.

Another question has to do with accounting principles. Financial analysts look at ratios to assess the management and financial health of a company. What is the ratio of R&D staff to sales and marketing staff? What percentage of employees are tied up in finance and administration? Etc. From this point of view, companies sometimes classify a writer as a developer (when they want to bump up their R&D expenditures for the tax credit) and sometimes classify a writer as administrative (when then want to lower their R&D headcount for the Wall Street analysts). So the answer to your question in this context is, "whatever the CFO wants it to be."

The third question has to do with the idiosyncracies of particular development organizations. If writers are an integral and indispensable part of every development team and development teams have, on average, one designer, one implementer, one QA person, and one writer, then the ratio is one to four. If, instead, the design department issues designs (without benefit of a writer), the implementation department implements, the QA department tests, and the documentation department writes user manuals, then the ratio may be closer to one to twenty. That's not to say that both ways of organizing work are equally effective or efficient, just that companies grow cultures and then get mired in them. So in this context, the answer to your question is that the ratio is what it is, given the way the entity is organized.




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# of writers to developers: From: Frances McGill

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