Re: Intellectual Exercise: How would you reduce your documentation by 80%?

Subject: Re: Intellectual Exercise: How would you reduce your documentation by 80%?
From: RoseCrowe <ncrowe -at- PRIMENET -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 20 Jan 1995 13:43:42 -0700

On Thu, 19 Jan 1995, Tara Scanlon wrote:

> Suppose your new company president decided that
> you need to reduce the amount of information
> (documentation and online help) your company
> produces by 80% in the next year. He's not looking to cut
> people, just words.
> Of course, he also wants to make sure that the current level
> of customer satisfaction is maintained, and that calls to the
> support hotline do not increase.

Of course, I want a balanced US budget without raising taxes or
cutting spending too!

> He expects a plan in a week.
[snip]
First, find out what his real motivation to make the cut is.
Is he traing to save production costs? Jumping on the
minimalist doc bandwagon? Customer complaints about wordy
documentation? If you know what the real problem is,
it will help you tailor the solution.

Second, analyze your documentation set. Your solution must
be geared to your audience (lots of newbies or mostly experienced?
technical backgrounds or other?), product (level of complexity?
platform?), tools (Winhelp? Frame?), availability of money
to obtain new tools if needed, and current documentation set
(wordy/badly written? redundant? just right? mising pieces?
tutorial or reference? both? task-oriented or program-oriented?
more in print or more on-line?) and so forth.

Thirdly:
Determine if the 80% is feasible. If not, propose other solutions.
If he wants to cut production costs, look into possible savings
on printing, paper, etc. Tell him how much can be cut and
what other solutions will match his needs. Also defend your
position: list advantages of current documentation set and
disadvantages of over-cutting it.

Fourthly:
If you trust your boss, then you can ignore this point. Although
he denies he wants to cut people, he may be thinking of this as
a goal within the next year or so. He could get you to cut the
doc down and *then* after the project of cutting the doc down
is complete, cut personnel. So he may not be *lying* per se --
he may not want to cut staff *just yet*. Update your resume
just in case....

FYI:
The way we designed our documentation here:
Most information on-line
Manuals only "Getting Started Guides"
The manuals follow minimalist doc principals -- get the folks
started playing with the product, let them learn. Reference
materials in the on-line help and can be printed by topics.
On-line help topics include screen pictures with field-level
popups as well as procedural steps to perform users' tasks.

I guestimate that if we had a full set of training, reference,
and user guides, documentation would be about 40-50% more
than it is currently.

Rosie (NorthCrowe)
ncrowe -at- primenet -dot- com
rwilc -at- fast -dot- dot -dot- state -dot- az -dot- us
*******
"Half an hour's meditation is essential except
when you are very busy. Then a full hour is needed."
-St. Francis De Sales


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