Reviewers who don't review?

Subject: Reviewers who don't review?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Siliconwriter <siliconwriter -at- comcast -dot- net>
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2006 17:23:44 -0400

Sarah Siliconwriter reports: <<A couple of weeks ago I created a quick start guide for our users, sent it around for review, got signatures, and sent it through our Document Control process, which garnered more reviews and more signatures. It got packed with the product and sent to a user. Next thing I know, I'm getting feedback from the field reps that the default user ID and password are incorrect.>>

Good thing you've got signatures. You can now take this feedback and a copy of the signatures to the managers of everyone who signed off on the problem areas and ask for appropriate beatings and beheadings. Of course, satisfying though it is to circulate digital images of the mutilated corpses to inspire fear and dread a week or two before the next review cycle, you may want to try something a bit more moderate... <g>

<<I had no access to this software while writing the guide, and relied on our field reps to give me the information, then later to review it.>>

Politely explaining the situation to the people who did not provide access, and providing the signatures and field rep comments as supporting materials if necessary, should gain you access to the software next time around. Similarly, pointing out that people who sign off on these things are legally responsible if your customers are harmed by inaccurate documentation should gain you support for holding these people responsible for the review.

Note that the goal here is to ensure accountability, not to punish anyone. When you get into punishment games, you create all kinds of long-term enmities that make your life even more difficult. Start with the attitude that punishment would be satisfying in the short term, but positive changes that don't earn you enemies will be more satisfying in the long term.

This isn't just theory: I've done this at a previous job. The key is not to blame people and insist on punishment, but rather to use the cold, hard facts to justify and implement a more rational approach. That approach must ensure accountability and tracking of that accountability; making successful reviews part of the criteria for the annual performance appraisal works well.

If you can't get buy-in from somebody with the authority to hold those who sign responsible for their mistakes, about the best you can do is take appropriate measures to cover your ass. Keep collecting signatures, keep a low profile, and eventually someone will get sufficiently pissed off to insist on a change. Since we writers are often highly visible targets, it would help to send Personnel a file copy of all your correspondence with managers and reviewers, plus relevant statistics about problems. If you're paranoid (sometimes justifiably so), keep a copy of anything that isn't confidential at home in case some of your files at work go missing.

<<Nobody mentioned that the user ID and password had been changed. When I mentioned (a bit testily, I confess) in email that the reviewers should have caught this, I was told by the head of tech support (my main reviewer) that he never looks at the documents he's sent to review, and that I should walk them over to him and stand over him to get them actually reviewed. What am I, his mother?>>

If you were, at least you could ground him and take away his TV privileges. <g> Here, you need to do several things: First, use this situation as evidence that you need to have ongoing access to the software and that the appropriate managers must hold reviewers accountable for their reviews. Second, you need to be working with the developers of the product to find a way to be kept up to date on changes. Third, you need to find a more appropriate reviewer. Tech support is great for telling you the kind of information users need, and what kinds of problems they report most frequently (i.e., so you can focus your efforts on these problem areas during the design stage), but only the developers ever know the actual state of the software (i.e., what you'll focus on once you move beyond design to the actual writing).

<<I am holding onto my temper with both hands, as the field reps are now blaming me for this screw-up. Am I responsible?>>

It would be appropriate to ask your manager to insist that the reviewers apologize to the field reps and absolve you of blame. Your ability to work with these people and others in the company, not to mention your professional reputation, is at stake here, and it's appropriate to work hard to protect yourself. At this point, your word probably isn't worth much, so the actual malefactors are the ones who should clear your name--or possibly their managers. It's nicer if the guilty parties take responsibility for their sins, but forcing this down their throats won't make you any friends. So you might want to accept a mea maxima culpa from their managers instead.

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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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Reviewers who don't review: From: Siliconwriter

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