Re: Developments in the review cycle

Subject: Re: Developments in the review cycle
From: Rick Lippincott <rjl6955 -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: Gene Kim-Eng <techwr -at- genek -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2016 09:59:26 -0400

Gene Kim-Eng said:
> I have never worked on a HW project where documentation development
> ended up being the critical path to product release. Not that it's
> impossible, but you'd almost have to try to make it happen.

Or the customer could insist, which happens. Probably it's more common
with brand-new, really large and very expensive hardware systems that
no one wants to break on the first day.

For example, aerospace: the customers buying airplanes often want to
be able to study the documentation before they take delivery. If it's
the first customer for a new design, customer probably wants the
fly-away crew to have read the necessary flight manuals, checklists,
and other material well in advance of that first flight. I would
assume other examples would include ships, and heavy power generation
equipment.

Early tech writing project of mine, the product was the first article
of a new line of aircraft. We wrote the manuals, delivery was the
source material for printing (film negatives, this was a long time
ago). Contract specified delivery of the negatives 90 days before
delivery of the first airplane. The company had planned the delivery
for December 31 (gotta get that check in that last quarter), which
meant we were on the hook for negative delivery by September 30. As
the acceptance for the first airplane included paying for things like
engineering development, support equipment, and of course the manuals,
the company eagerly awaiting a $250 million check on New Year's Eve.

Problem? It's September 28th, and we can't deliver the negatives for
about 30,000 pages of documentation because there's one final, teensy,
nearly insignificant half-page procedure about replacing a panel that
hasn't yet been signed off, so the customer says "no." Getting
sign-off was my job, I'd been down to the flight line daily, but the
supervisor kept refusing me access saying that I'd be in the way and
delaying his very important work. (Tech writers not getting respect:
not a new thing.)

My boss said "There's a senior program management meeting this
afternoon, go to it. Explain the problem. All the senior management
will be there." I was there, flight line supervisor was there, I
stated the problem, flight line supervisor responded with "I've got an
airplane to deliver at the end of December, we're busy, and I don't
need no kid from 'handbooks' interrupting me this week. 'Handbooks'
has 90 days to finish, they can come onto the airplane next month."

I don't know if they heard the shake in my voice, but I replied "I
think you need to re-read the contract. The 90-day clock starts
ticking when we deliver. YOUR delivery hinges on OUR delivery. If you
don't want me on the airplane until early October, that's fine, but it
means you don't deliver the airplane until early January."

Long silence, then Senior VP in charge said "I think we need to
adjourn this meeting and take a look at the contract."

Half an hour later when I got back to my office (it was a very large
plant), my boss met me at the door and said "Senior VP just called.
The airplane is 'all yours' for the next two hours. Go get it done."
Which I did, under the eyes of a seething flight line supervisor, who
had obviously been given an order he didn't like. We delivered the
negatives the next day, and the airplane December 31.

So, yeah, it happens, and it can happen, if that's what the customer
wants. I don't know what the schedules are like these days, electronic
delivery probably makes the lead time shorter than the 90 days I had
to deal with, but there are occasions when the customer really really
wants to be able to review and study the docs before turning the key.
Those are the occasions that put documentation on the critical path.

--Rick Lippincott
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Follow-Ups:

References:
Developments in the review cycle: From: Erika Yanovich
RE: Developments in the review cycle: From: mbaker
RE: Developments in the review cycle: From: Steve Hudson
RE: Developments in the review cycle: From: mbaker
Re: Developments in the review cycle: From: Keith Hood
Re: Developments in the review cycle: From: Gene Kim-Eng

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