Re: Tech Pubs' Reporting Structure

Subject: Re: Tech Pubs' Reporting Structure
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 26 Jan 1996 09:32:35 -0800

Karen Gwynn writes:
>Now, however, each documentation specialist reports directly to a technical
>product manager.
[...]
>However, this structure is not utopia. One of our biggest concerns/issues is
>quality control across product lines. We do not have a corporate editor (one or
>more individuals dedicated to editing technical--or other--documents). Editing
>is done as peer edits, usually by the writers on the same team. This poses a
>major problem for teams with only one writer (this situation exists).

>General writing and design standards are, so far, handled fairly well. We had a
>good set of standards before we moved to the product development teams, and all
>writers are part of what we call the Documentation Coordination Committee. As a
>group we decide standards issues and resolve other issues that affect all
>writers (for example, hiring and training new writers).

I predict that things will start to decay very soon. You don't have a
manager to back up Tech Pubs (as a group) at management meetings. You
apparently don't have a budget. Committees don't carry any weight
inside corporations, which means that the committee's opinion probably
can't overrule meddling product managers (who do carry weight).

If I'm right, you will see these things happening soon:

1. Randomized standards, as product managers make (let's face it) ignorant
decisions about "their" documentation's content, not to mention,
typography, the English language, printing technology, and so on.

2. Weak and inconsistent support in all areas affected by budget, especially
equipment, software, and training.

3. Allocation of writers not by customer requirements and task complexity,
but by the need to satify the empire-building cravings of product
managers.

4. Loss of productivity and high turnover in some groups.

5. Difficulty in hiring new writers into this Balkanized setup.

I was once in a group such as you described. The product managers
each wanted a captive technical writer as a mark of status (I preferred
issuing them company cars, myself). Some people spent years doing
useless busywork, while others (on critical projects) were completely
swamped by their gargantuan tasks. When the company was doing very
well, money flowed like water into crucial and trivial purchases alike;
but when things were even slightly shaky, not even the most critical
purchase was possible -- none of the individual product managers had
the budget (they always forgot about us at budget time), and no one
stood up for the group at staff meetings.

On the other hand, you can have all the advantages of the structure
you described without the pain. A centrally managed writing group
can assign a writer to a project, move the writer's office into
the deveopment group's turf, and things can go as described. It's
not necessary to have a product manager write performance reviews,
or for the Tech Pubs budget to evaporate, for people to be part of
an engineering development team. With a Tech Writing Manager to
set standards and go to bat for the group, decay is no longer to
be expected. Reviews and editing can take place as a matter of
course, and the documentation for all the product lines will probably
even look like they came from the same company!

My experience is that writers prefer working for other writers, and
dislike reporting to people who do not understand technical publications.
Going to bat for your needs in the face of incomprehension on the part
of members of other disciplines is what managers are for.

-- Robert
--
Robert Plamondon, President/Managing Editor, High-Tech Technical Writing, Inc.
36475 Norton Creek Road * Blodgett * Oregon * 97326
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com * (541) 453-5841 * Fax: (541) 453-4139


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