Re: TECHWR-L Digest - 19 Sep 1995 to 20 Sep 1995

Subject: Re: TECHWR-L Digest - 19 Sep 1995 to 20 Sep 1995
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 21 Sep 1995 09:13:08 PDT

>Now that the Word vs. Frame debate has come to a close, I would like to
>open a new arena. My company is currently running both FrameMaker and
>PageMaker to produce documentation, and my boss would like to support
>only one. The battle lines have been drawn between the two sides and we
>are in a deadlock. I am hoping that I can get some objective opinions
>about the benefits of each program.

The first question to ask is: What is the purpose of having a
single standard? Allowing people to use what they like has an
import/export conversion burden, and a productivity burden when
people move from one environment to another. Using an inappropriate
package has a productivity burden every time the package is used.
Training costs are higher for higher-end packages, but tend to
be more than offset by productivity gains.

The second question to ask is: Where it the WRITTEN PROPOSAL
detailing the cost savings or productivity increases that will be
achieved by the single standard? You want to see the whole cost
picture, including purchase price, lost productivity due to retraining,
training costs, and long-term productivity effects. Ask this same
question every time the concept of a single standard goes up. Claim
you don't want to go into a painful conversion/retraining cycle without
documented, tested benefits. Suggest a pilot program. Suggest
productivity testing, where people familiar with different packages
create identical documents.

The costs of even high-end packages tend to be completely overshadowed
by productivity issues -- something you can prove to yourself with
a back-of-the-envelope calculation. A 25% productivity gain from
a $1000 package used 400 hours per year for two years breaks even
when the user's wages are $1000/(0.25*400*2) = $5/hour.

(I've chosen a two-year cycle because that's a good bet for the lifetime
of software versions and hardware platforms.)

Most users are hemmed in on all sides: no training, inadequate computer
systems, and the wrong software. Fixing all these can often double
productivity. An overhaul including $2500 of new software, a $4000
PC with 21" color monitor, and $2000 worth of training would break
even (in two years of 400 hr/year use) at $8500/(1*400*2) = $10.62/hr.

(Or, to put it less formally, doubled productivity means you get
twice the work done in the same hours, so you get, in this example,
800 hours' work in two years without paying for it. If those
savings pay for the investment, you've reached break-even.)

-- Robert

Robert Plamondon * High-Tech Technical Writing
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (503) 453-5841
"I regret that I have but one * for my country." -- Nathan Hale

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