Tech. Writers and the Organization (Long Posting)

Subject: Tech. Writers and the Organization (Long Posting)
From: Robbie Rupel <ROBBIE -at- NENE2 -dot- CMS-STL -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 4 Apr 1995 08:52:42 CST6CDT

Greetings from St. Louis!

About a week ago I posted a request for opinions on where technical
writers fit into an organizational structure. The following is a
summary of the replies recieved to date. (The names have been erased to
protect the innocent!)

Method 1: Technical Writers Reporting to the Individual Teams

Pros

- the technical writer becomes a dedicated resource throughout the
project's
development cycle

- one technical writer per team eliminates resource conflicts between
project teams

- the team provides autonomy for the technical writer (that is, technical
writers can set
deadlines based on team activity)

- there is better rapport with the members of the team (the team members
eventually respect what technical writers do)

- the technical writer has a better understanding of how the project is
coming
along

- the technical writer can work on other parts of the project (i.e. user
interface design,
specification, etc.)

- the technical writer has a better opportunity to learn skills from other
team members
(programming, testing, etc.)

- the equipment costs for the technical writer are bundled into team
expenses; this results
in the technical writer having access to better equipment

Cons

- this method does not work if one or more teams do not have an assigned
technical
writer

- the team leaders do not know the technical writer's expertise, yet give
annual
reviews and determine quality of work (i.e. they must be educated in
these areas)

- the technical writer is isolated from other writers in the company (no
support network;
can lead to low morale)

- the technical writer must wear all "hats" (writer, editor, proofreader,
etc); must be very
careful when producing final product

- it is impossible to shift resources between teams to account for schedule
slips

- the technical writer is often asked to help complete other parts of the
project (such as
testing) at the expense of completing their part of the project

- there is no central focus of what documentation is (each writer
establishes their
own vision and standards)

- there is no way to ensure conformance standards (a documentation style
guide becomes
a necessity)

- if several projects are to become a product, there is no clear ownership
of
the final manual (type, content, mechanics, etc.)

- there is no clear way to handle documentation-only projects

- there is no realistic career path within the company


Method 2: Technical Writers Reporting to a Documentation Department

Pros

- technical writers can keep quality communication as their first goal
(this ultimately
produces better quality manuals)

- fewer technical writer resources are required (because one writer can be
assigned to
multiple teams)

- technical writer resources can be shifted between teams to meet
deadlines/last minute
requirements

- technical writers can help a product move into new technologies (online
help, manuals
on CD ROM, hypertext links, useability testing, etc.)

- technical writers can have input to other company documentation
(marketing literature,
training documentation, policies and procedures, etc.)

- there is someone (or group) responsible for the final manual

- there is a mechanism for scheduling documentation-only projects

- the documentation manager knows writer's expertise, gives reviews, and
determines
quality of work

- the documentation team can enforce a Style Guide

- the technical writers get a variety of work assignments (product cross
training is
desirable with a small group of writers)

Cons

- technical writers are not always seen as part of the team; this can lead
to a lack of
respect for the job of technical writing

- technical writers may not always find out about project changes until the
last
minute

- there are potential conflicts of resources between teams

- the equipment costs for the technical writer must be repeatedly
justified; this can result
in reduced access to better equipment

- there is no realistic career path within the company

Thanks again to everyone who has responded to date. I am looking forward
to more discussions on this topic in the future.

Robbie Rupel
Senior Technical Writer
Computerized Medical Systems, Inc.
robbie -at- cms-stl -dot- com


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