RE: Metrics for Technical Writing.

Subject: RE: Metrics for Technical Writing.
From: mlist -at- safenet-inc -dot- com
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 2006 16:15:45 -0400

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Peter Neilson [mailto:neilson -at- alltel -dot- net]
> Any method that writers perceive as smelling like micromanagement
> can threaten or even destroy the overall product. "They
> want keystrokes per day? They'll GET keystrokes per day."

Likely a lot of said keystrokes would be updating resumé and
cover letters. Now _that's_ productivity. Measurable, too.

> I'll have to say, though, that a good writer or tech pubs manager
> can develop a feeling for the amount of effort that will go
> into a particular doc project. Still, it's a metric that's
> accurate to no better than one significant digit. "A 23%
> improvement over last yeat's doc effort," is meaningless without
> careful supporting evidence. The evidence is of course selected
> to support a foregone conclusion.

Certainly a group can make significant improvements in
the quantity and the quality of their output from
one year to the next, by getting the workflow nailed
down, and by having the members all be(come) experienced
in that company - who the SMEs are, when it is fruitful
to ask certain types of questions (before which time,
nobody even knows the answers yet), what non-specified
customers must be satisfied and how much effort or
space should be devoted to political accommodation, how
the entrails are to be read.

Even giving everybody new equipment and tools in one
year can have a big effect (a good one, if it all
works, a bad one if everybody spends a big chunk of
time dancing with IT, trying to fix stuff that
previously worked).

On the other hand, giving everybody new equipment and
tools at the happy point before their previous stuff
became a drag on productivity, might have no obvious
effect, but would pre-emptively prevent a decline
in the coming year from using outdated tools or
whatever. Measure that, I dare you. :-)
Who wants to be in the control group?
What's that you say? Productivity metrics never seem
to include control groups? Gosh, how unexpected.

A single person can make significant improvements
from one year to the next. It'll be readily observable
for new/junior employees picking up experience, or
for new-hire experienced people getting the hang of
the new workplace and work.

But, for experienced people who have been at the
same place for a while and have a well-oiled workflow,
can you realistically expect them to produce 20%
more output each successive year with 20% better
quality indicators?

Possibly the metrics would be useful to compare
productivity among writers and then either fire
whoever came up short (ignoring any contribution
that the metrics did not meter), or if all seem
to be in rough parity, then fire the most senior
and expensive, keeping the lowest-paid who can
do the job (at least the job that is measured).

If you have multiple locations, each populated
with just one or two writers, dealing mostly with
locally generated products - where said products
are different enough to warrant having the separate
locations rather than consolidating - then the products,
locations and documentation are likely different
enough that common metrics would not tell you much.

I don't have a problem with establishing ways to
measure and gather data when there's a clear goal
and you are dealing with apples and apples.
I do rather rail against drumming up measurement
procedures and statistics for ornamental (optics)
purposes, or purposes of career-advancement on the
part of the measurer. Like they went to a seminar
and are now filled with the holy zeal.

I especially dislike getting to the end of somebody's
epoch, and following the re-org, people quietly
"forget" their reporting, until one day somebody
asks "whatever happened to that form we used to
/f/a/k/e/ /u/p/... er... fill out every Friday?"
"Oh, it wasn't really used for anything - nobody
in management really had any use for the numbers.
It's just something some bright boy thought up
to impress a VP who's been gone for four years,
but once it had momentum, nobody questioned."
(See, there IS value in keeping older types around
to explain the history. :-)

Kevin (definitely an older type around here, but not a cynic, heck no, cuz
he hasn't met the above described conditions at his current gig [fingers
tightly crossed while tapping wooden skull])

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