Re: Information gathering.....

Subject: Re: Information gathering.....
From: Ned Bedinger <doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com>
To: Al Geist <al -dot- geist -at- geistassociates -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2008 03:45:16 -0700

Al Geist wrote:
> HI all,
> My department head has decided that the problems
> with us falling behind is > because our information
> gathering is inefficient.

What a novel analysis! But he may not think so deeply about the
solution. Watch out for blowback if he leaps to the obvious one (have
the engineers write the documentation).

> His idea is to have the engineers videotape the setup/alignment
> process so we won't have to bother them with questions. Those same engineers
> would discuss the various components making up the systems. (These systems
> use pneumatics, hydraulics, and electronics to align and bond silicon wafers
> and are extremely precise.)

I love it--letting the SMEs present their information to the camera is a
brilliant idea. I imagine they would make a big effort, carefully
thinking their procedures through and designing the demo to really
reflect the product. I would encourage this approach.

> We would take the tapes and write the books.

There's a lot to be said for getting the SME presentation on video. If
they do an incomprehensible brain dump, you get a tape of it, and the
chance to construct something useful by sorting it out. If your SMEs
turn out to be more savvy about knowledge transfer, you get more
information because the camera, to them, is the customer, freeing them
of the Q&A with the tech writer and letting them talk through the
scenarios they've thought so much about while designing and developing
the product. Trust them to know what's important!

One manager I worked for had a video that all new hire tech writers had
to watch. In it, he interviewed the manager of an intense 24x7 group
that we wrote a lot of docs and training for, and it succeeded very well
in setting the stage for tech writers who would be parachuted in to work
with them. The more I worked with them, the more I re-watched that
video--the managers (SMEs) had anticipated a lot of the issues that tech
writers would encounter, and provided key insights designed to keep us
from getting all hung up and jerked around due to not understanding
their mission and processes.

IOW, video SME can be amazing. Go for it.

> Reviews would be accomplished by training as they train the field service
> staff. (How they would know what is correct or what is and error was not
> part of his proposal.)

Patience, grasshopper. Savor the journey.

> Has anyone had experience incorporating video in the information gathering
> process for technical publications? How did it work for you (or did it
> work)? Did it vastly improve efficiency, or was the development time about
> the same? If you used video, what did you have to do to ensure the
> information you got was worthwhile?

I've seen a lot of writers use audio recording of interviewed SMEs, but
I haven't seen video production of the SME presentation, other than the
interview I mentioned.

The expectation that SMEs will prepare more for the video than for an
interview is what I think drives any efficiency in this approach. I
think I would rattle their cages with nagging reminders that their day
in front of the cameras is fast approaching, and I would express hope
they're going to be ready [though my tone would imply shame, unlimited
embarrassment, and possible eventual forgiveness for them if they fail
to knock it out].

As the video guy, I'm sure you'll know more subtle ways to wheedle or
cajole them into giving a stellar performance.

> That bottle of Rare Vos is looking pretty good right about now.

Aye, double if you please.

Ned Bedinger
doc -at- edwordsmith -dot- com

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Information gathering.....: From: Al Geist

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