Re: Training & manuals with product roll-out

Subject: Re: Training & manuals with product roll-out
From: Kat Nagel/MasterWork <katnagel -at- EZNET -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 3 Nov 1995 14:02:34 -0400

Tim Lewis asks:
>I would like to post a question to
>techwriters who work in a corporate
>environment about having completed
>documentation at the time of product roll-out.
(Background snipped)
>So, my questions are:
>1. How do you gather enough information to create manuals
>and/or training materials so that it can be released with the product?
>2. Do you start writing what you know, as soon as you learn about the
>project, perhaps from technical specification sheets, or interviews with
>3. Are you involved in the project early on?

One of my contracts last year was for a new software product for a large
diagnostic instrument manufacturer. They brought the writers in as soon as
there was a prototype available, even though they knew that there would be
major changes before product introduction. We immediately started
gathering information from hardware engineers, software programmers, and
medical laboratory staff. We also had two delightful pieces of fiction
called 'Product Specification' and 'Paper Implementation.'

We had a topic outline of the set of three manuals available by the time
the quality control staff started testing the first prototype. The testing
staff got copies to critique, as did the rest of the SMEs and the head of
the training center staff. We used their comments, along with the product
specs and paper implementation (what the screens were -supposed- to look
like) to write the first draft of the manual. This was ready about the
time the second version of the prototype was released. Our docs were used
to train internal staff to run the v2 prototype.

Of course, the docs didn't match the product.
Of course, the trainees were furious.
Of course, we took their detailed rantings and revised our docs.

V2 of the doc set coincided with v3 of the product prototype. Same
sequence of events. Same technicolor-plus-surround-sound reaction from the
reviewers and the new set of trainees. Sigh. V3 of the docs was ready
with version 5 of the prototype --- the one that was sent to selected
customer sites for beta testing. There was a much closer match between the
docs and the product this time.

With very, very good communication between the programmers, the QA
supervisor and the writers, the production version of the doc set was ready
when the first production model of the product was delivered to a real
paying customer. It wasn't perfect, but it was THERE when the customers
needed it.

I think you could to do a similar rough prototyping process for a training
video, using cheap <deleteword> low-to-medium resoulution digital cameras.
On-screen editing with presentation software could give you a fast demo
version to go along with your draft scripts. Your reviewers can comment on
the organization and presentation of the material, even though everyone
knows that the visual details of the gadget will change. Then, when the
product is -really- available, you can do the final production-quality
video shots and editing.

@Kat_____ Kat Nagel
MasterWork Consulting Services Rochester, NY
LIFE1 (techwriting/docdesign) katnagel -at- eznet -dot- net
LIFE2 (vocal chamber music) PlaynSong -at- aol -dot- com

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