Re: Fwd: gaining control of a dysfunctional environment?

Subject: Re: Fwd: gaining control of a dysfunctional environment?
From: Beth Agnew <beth -dot- agnew -at- senecac -dot- on -dot- ca>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2006 18:02:06 -0400

The telling phrase in your post was that your boss doesn't think it's your job to manage documentation. This is the key, because you have to convince him that it indeed* is* your job to manage documentation. The profession of technical communication is one of building relationships. We need to have good relationships with all of the people with whom we interact and from whom we need to get information so that we can do our jobs. This is not always easy, especially for writers who prefer to interact with a page rather than a person.

You have said that you have failed to institute a document management process despite your best efforts. It sounds very much like your oganization has low process maturity. They don't like processes at all. Your job will have to become one of education and project management as much as it is techwriting. The good thing is that the document development process closely parallels the software development process. We're just about a half-step behind most of the time. If you are not currently doing a documentation plan, I would suggest starting there. This is equivalent to a specifications document for your manual. If your company doesn't do specs, this will be an uphill climb.

There is so much that should change to permit good processes that it will be difficult to convey it all in message format. However, you can start with the thin end of wedge by keeping a project log. Take notes of what you are observing so that you have concrete information upon which to base future actions and recommendations. Make friends with the BA and the PM, they can be your best allies. Begin to educate by telling those you speak with about how techwriting processes work. For example, when you want to resolve an issue and someone says it's not your job, pleasantly say, "Actually, it is a typical technical communication task for the user advocate, that's me, to be involved in resolution of issues that can affect users and usability. I am trained to help solve those kinds of problems in software development." If they don't believe you, keep referring to other authorities, such as the STC, and drop names of experts such as Jared Spool, Ginnie Redish, JoAnn Hackos, etc. (If you haven't got JoAnn's book Managing your Documentaton Projects, get it, read it, do it.) You can also mention that teachers of technical communication (me included) teach this, and that the STC is continually funding research in this. Educate them about iterations and signoffs in documentation, and you can subtly get across that software processes work this way too.

Does the opportunity exist for you to give a "lunch 'n' learn" presentation about what it is you do? Or say, the Capability Maturity Model? Or on Software Development Methodologies? They might not accept YOU speaking on the latter two topics, but perhaps you can work with the HR department to bring in an expert for some company-wide professional development. Also check out Pragmatic Marketing for Development. Once the company leaders understand that good s/w development processes drop mega-$$$ to the bottom line, they might start to be more accepting of positive change. Clip relevant articles that support your ideas and send them to DEV, PM, and whoever else can take the lead on this, with a wee note "Thought this was interesting."

Remind them that as the documentation writer, you are one of the few people in the entire company to see the big picture, as well as the detail level. Remind them that technical writers typically work with marketing, sales, customer support, QA, product management, and training, as well as development. Connect with other TWs for moral support and a flood of ideas.

Remember that you are a communication expert, and this is a problem in communication -- which you can begin to solve. Contact me off list for additional help.
Good luck!

Anonymous Poster wrote:

***My question is: people on techwr-l occasionally mention they use
their role to impose structure and processes in their companies, so
they can do their job. How exactly? What's the secret? What am I
doing wrong?***
Beth Agnew
Catch the Buzz:
STC Presentation archived at:

Professor, Technical Communication
Seneca College of Applied Arts & Technology
Toronto, ON 416.491.5050 x3133


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Fwd: gaining control of a dysfunctional environment?: From: Anonymous Poster

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