The Technical Writer vs. Agile Development Methodologies

Subject: The Technical Writer vs. Agile Development Methodologies
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Kevin McGowan <thatguy_80 -at- hotmail -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 31 Jan 2006 14:41:54 -0500

Kevin McGowan wondered: <<Is anyone else out there struggling with a development team determined to use Agile Development methodologies? I'm trying to research on what the ideal role for the tech writer in all of this Agile madness.>>

My limited understanding (all based on reading, not personal experience*) is that the main flavor of this method, or at least the recurring theme in a family of methods, is a focus on implementing features in small, focused time periods. At the end of the various iterations, you have something resembling the final feature and can move on.

* See, for example, <>

In theory, this means that you can largely ignore the process during the iterative design and testing (unless you're fortunate enough to be included in the design team), and can focus on the documentation only after the feature is complete and the team moves on to the next feature. This is kind of techwriter nerdvana--the elusive "interface freeze" we so desire before we begin writing.

In practice, I'm given to understand that there are different flavors of "agile" and that the process probably doesn't work this cleanly. Among other things, programmers trained in "the old ways" may revert to those ways under stress, particularly if their managers are also old-school managers who don't understand the new process and simply keep adding features and modifying old features just like they used to do in "waterfall development"*.

* So named because it mimics the process of everybody diving into the river, being swept over a series of waterfalls and dashed upon the rocks below, then climbing out and repeating the process until nobody is left alive, the company declares bankruptcy, or something vaguely resembling the original design (battered by water and rocks) emerges and is thrown at the unsuspecting user like a log being hurled off the top of a high waterfall in a B movie.

<<In one of our courses, we actually had a trainer say something to the effect that end-user docs aren't a concern in agile... I know that's not exactly the best way to say it, but it seems that Agile methodology may well be suffering with a bias (intentional or not) against the tech writers who must keep up with all the Agile-ness to create end-user documentation.>>

Is it possible that the trainer simply failed to correctly deliver the message that the documentation is the final stage of each feature implementation? Note also that the WikiPedia description does not clearly distinguish between end-user documentation and code documentation; I get the impression that your trainer may have been referring to the code documentation, which is left to the end of the process, when the feature is actually working, rather than being started early on and constantly revised (or not) as the team rejiggers the algorithms.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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The Technical Writer vs. Agile Development Methodologies: From: Kevin McGowan

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