Process for Requesting Writing Services?

Subject: Process for Requesting Writing Services?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L Writing <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Carol Anne Wall <carol_anne_t_wall -at- msn -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 17 Jul 2009 10:37:06 -0400

Carol Anne Wall wondered: <<How do you receive requests for your
writing services? Does someone just drop by your desk, ask for help
and you decide if you have time? Does your manager assign you to a
project or a specific task?>>

As a freelancer, that's pretty much how it happens: stuff just
arrives, usually with no warning, and I scramble to fit it into my
schedule. I have some tricks to make this more manageable, but it's
still awfully chaotic. However, my major client dispatches work to me
and several other contractors, and they make the decision based on the
expertise of their various contractors and their knowledge of our
availability. For this reason, I make a point of keeping them well
aware of my availability -- particularly times when I'll be away and
times when I don't have any work and want them to send me more.

But this is woefully inefficient, and at a former employer, we
transitioned from this kind of system to something much more planned
as a result of a kaizen (process re-engineering) exercise. This was a
situation in which I was the only editor for ca. 25 writers who were
cranking out research reports, but there are clear parallels for
writing teams that make this experience worth reporting. It worked
remarkably well. Here's how we did it:

<<Is there a formal request (memo, database entry) that outlines what
they need you to do?>>

In the revised system, all managers worked with their subordinates to
identify what would be published over the course of the year, and
roughly when it would be published. As each author finished the work
that was required before they could begin to write, their manager
called a planning meeting (usually about 15 minutes long) in which all
stakeholders (manager, author, communications manager or their rep)
discussed the writing, defined its characteristics, rigorously
reviewed the written outline the author was proposing, and identified
deliverables and a timeline for delivering them. This gave the
communications group at least a week and often more advance warning so
we could juggle our schedules if necessary.

We managed this process using a kludgy but surprisingly effective
solution: one of our staff cobbled together a system based on the
tasks feature of Outlook and the workgroup management features of
Exchange (including the ability to control access to documents and
move tasks between groups), so that we could automatically route work
from one person to the next, and track progress towards deadlines
using Outlook's task management system. Since I left this employer,
they've replaced this with some other system (I believe based on
Sharepoint). I don't know details of the plumbing of the old or new
systems, so please don't ask.

<<The problem we're trying to solve is the underutilization of the
admins and the writers, and improve the depth of our system/project
documentation. One thought we had was to create a list of what our
team can do, and then ask the BA/PM/QA Lead to specifically request
those services.>>

That can be very efficient. For my major freelance client , this is
exactly how things work: their despatcher knows the expertise of each
team member, and the amount of work we currently have on our desks,
and sends work to the most qualified worker provided that person has
time to accept the job; if not, they pass it on to the next-most-
qualified worker or to someone who has time on their hands.

It also has the non-trivial advantage of teaching managers how much
work you're doing and how well you're doing it, which comes in awfully
useful around performance appraisal time. <g>

Geoff Hart (
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
Effective Onscreen Editing:


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Process for Requesting Writing Services?: From: Carol Anne Wall

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