Re: How much educating do your 'clients' need?

Subject: Re: How much educating do your 'clients' need?
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 15 Oct 1995 09:26:56 PDT

>It would seem obvious that most products -- software products anyway -- require
>some kind of manual. Yet I'm always amazed at how often first-time product
>managers will come to us, mid-way through development or even later, and ask
>"How fast can I get a manual written?" It has happened to me four or five times
>now, and invariably when I explain what is involved in writing and producing a
>manual they are dumbfounded. And we end up starting a whole educational cycle
>all over again.

>Have others been through this? Do I just work with particularly dull-witted

As any engineering secretary can tell you, engineers and engineering
managers require an astonishing amount of babysitting.

Handling this kind of problem is simple. You approach the product manager
at the beginning of the project, spend an hour with him talking about
his product and his documentation needs, write an implementation plan,
and hand it to him. Check at intervals to make sure that it's been
folded into his own plan. Be especially careful to make him pay for
everything you can think of that doesn't fit into your own budget.
Bigger hard drives, catering for lunch meetings, and contractors are
typical line items.

Also, decide how much of the engineers' time you want, and demand it.
Early on, you can do this, and people will grudgingly acquiese.

I find Gantt charts very useful in this endeavor. Any time someone
suggests stiffing you on something you want, your deadlines leap further
into the future. By showing the managers the effects of their intransigence
(in a helpful, even cheerful way: "Sure, we can do it that way if we
really have to, but it slips the manual out until...hmmm....September 17.")
you can beat a smidgeon of reality into them.

By the way, speaking of Gantt charts, it's useful to have a Gantt chart
full of projects on your whiteboard. That way, when someone comes in
asking for the impossible, you turn around to ponder your Gantt chart,
which indicates that you can fit him in some time in 1997. Having nothing
better to do, he will ponder the same chart. It will dawn on him that,
if you can work him in this year, you're doing him a big favor. This
improves people's attitudes toward you.

If not a Gantt chart, then a list of projects and major non-project
items that are on your plate works wonders. I've never had any trouble
filling an arbitrarily large whiteboard with the projects people want
me to do.

Put one of those on your wall, and people will start prefacing every
conversation with you with, "I know you're really busy, but..."

-- 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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