RE: Agile tech writing

Subject: RE: Agile tech writing
From: "Zuercher, Darrell" <dzuerche -at- tva -dot- gov>
To: "Blount, Patricia A" <Patricia -dot- Blount -at- ca -dot- com>, <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 9 Apr 2010 10:24:14 -0400

Patty,

I am a lone writer on an agile (Scrum) development team. We have been
agile for about two years. There are a few things that can help you
succeed in this environment, based on my experience. Your mileage may
vary.

1. Make sure that your documentation is included in your Product Backlog
Item estimates. Your Product Owner may not even consider an item "done"
unless it is also documented.

2. Each of the other tasks you perform (UI review, error message text
editing, instruction changes, etc.) are also included in the estimates,
and are itemized in the Sprint's deliverables.

3. Attend the daily Scrum meetings, or whatever status-reporting
conversations the team has, so that your tasks are visible to the rest
of the team. This includes any obstacles that are related to team-member
availability.

We typically have several simultaneous projects (We currently create and
support over around 175 different applications.) underway, so I am also
documenting multiple applications simultaneously. I have had the most
success when I am a vocal member of an application's team, submitting
suggestions to make application easier to use or more intuitive. I am
quick to offer suggestions for UI element placement, menu design, screen
usage, etc. when the team is discussing implementation options. I have
also acted as Scrum Master on several teams, including one which won a
departmental award for best team last year (600-person department).

Many view agile development as not requiring documentation. The truth
is, the documentation is required but is much more dynamic. From design,
through requirements, to the end user, there is documentation. Smaller
deliverables, less formal, but essential. I like the phrase, "barely
sufficient documentation". Write just enough so that the audience can
accomplish its work. As someone (I can't remember the source at the
moment) once said, "Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Concerning your delivery schedule, one option might be to delay delivery
of the software by one Sprint, in order to complete the documentation.
Feature 1 is developed in Sprint 1. Feature 2 is developed in Sprint 2,
while Feature 1 is documented, and then released. Feature 3 is developed
in Sprint 3, while Feature 2 is documented, and then released. Just a
thought.

I hope this helps.

--Darrell

-----Original Message-----
From: techwr-l-bounces+dzuerche=tva -dot- gov -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
[mailto:techwr-l-bounces+dzuerche=tva -dot- gov -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com] On Behalf
Of Blount, Patricia A
Sent: Friday, April 09, 2010 9:12 AM
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Subject: Agile tech writing

Good morning, all,

I learned last week in strategy conference that my company plans to
adopt an agile development process. For us, that means switching from an
annual software release cycle to a monthly one. I've devoted a good deal
of time since then to researching agile methods, trying to learn how
tech writing fits into such a process. (Tom Johnson, Sarah Maddox and
Anne Gentle all have incredibly detailed blog entries on this topic. I
began my research there.)

So far, I know we'll be focusing on just a few tasks per sprint. So it's
probably less writing than we're used to. But it has to fit into a much
smaller schedule, so I'm sure there's still a mad scramble to get it all
done.

I've got a few concerns... chief among them: Does tech writing fall off
the radar in such environments? Rumor hear has it that tech writing will
lag a sprint behind development. I think that's a bad idea because we
typically do more than 'write'. We review GUI screens for grammar and
sense, we suggest design improvements when instructions feel clunky, we
can test as we write, so if we lag a sprint behind, those problems won't
be fixed immediately (and isn't that the goal of agile?)

Does anybody have agile tech writing experience? Could you share a
little of what the typical sprint feels like?

Thanks,
Patty B.
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Use Doc-To-Help's XML-based editor, Microsoft Word, or HTML and
produce desktop, Web, or print deliverables. Just write (or import)
and Doc-To-Help does the rest. Free trial: http://www.doctohelp.com

Explore CAREER options and paths related to Technical Writing,
learn to create SOFTWARE REQUIREMENTS documents, and
get tips on FUNCTIONAL SPECIFICATION best practices. Free at:
http://www.ModernAnalyst.com

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Follow-Ups:

References:
Agile tech writing: From: Blount, Patricia A

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