Re: Process for Requesting Writing Services?

Subject: Re: Process for Requesting Writing Services?
From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Sat, 18 Jul 2009 12:31:57 +0300

Carol Anne,

It sounds to me as if your shop would be a perfect place to implement
one of the many project/time/task management apps.

Among creative types, perhaps the best known one is a hosted app by 37
Signals called Basecamp: <> This one costs a
few dollars a month if you need more than the free version has.

I think a good paid alternative might be 5PM: <>
Even the basic version may be sufficient at $18 per month; the next
level up almost certainly would be at $28 per month.

However, there are some interesting free alternatives out there now,
both those that are hosted and those you can host yourself internally.
Among the free hosted ones are <> and

A list of various Basecamp-style apps is at

Among apps you can download and host internally is Project Pier,
although I think there are others as well.

Another route you could take would be to set up a wiki; there are some
that are even used to create documentation, although I have never
worked with any.

The beauty of Basecamp and its various competitors and clones is that
it facilitates collaboration and keeping everyone informed and in the
loop. Your various internal customers can be a part of that easily and
effectively, while your manager can oversee the assignments and

I believe it is a mistake to permit your internal customers to
determine which of your group they can solicit for help. Often, that
becomes a popularity contest, and as you have noted some of your team
members may be under-utilized. With these applications, you can
subordinate tasks to the admin people that are within their
competence, and track the status of each of these tasks easily and

I haven't looked at JoAnn Hackos' book in some years now, but I think
it predates the development of this kind of resource.

Today, if I were called upon to help either set up or transform a
group such as yours, I would immediately begin to explore these
management applications to see if they wouldn't resolve many of the
problems you speak of.

Best of luck, and kindly share the solutions you folks find!


> From: Carol Anne Wall <carol_anne_t_wall -at- msn -dot- com>

> 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? Is there a
> formal request (memo, database entry) that outlines what they need you
> to do?
> Our department recently reorganized, and the tech writers (2) and admin
> assistants (2) are now part of the Product/Project Support team. Our
> manager (programming/consultant background) has assigned the writers
> and one admin to develop the shape of "product/project support", and
> define our roles.  We are also uncovering what the business analysts
> and testers need to get their job done -- and standardizing who (writer
> vs. admin) does what.
> 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. Then
> our manager could assign the appropriate team member(s) to the
> project/task.
> We're trying to avoid a situation where there's a request for a tech
> writer, and the task to be performed better fits an admin's skill set.
> We also want to distribute the workload better; one person's feast is
> another's famine.
> In the meantime, I've been looking for writing request templates and
> I've been re-reading JoAnn Hackos's "Managing Your Documentation
> Projects".  According to Hackos, we are somewhere between level zero
> and level one* in her maturity model.  Our initial goal is to move into a
> level two process.  But we can't do that overnight.
> Some of the processes and templates in her book don't look like
> they'd work well at our staffing/operational/maturity level. It would be more
> helpful to find out what other small teams do.
> I would love to hear what works for you, and any other resources I
> should review.
> Carol Anne

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