Re: My terrible client... Technical Writer Horror Story Number 3056

Subject: Re: My terrible client... Technical Writer Horror Story Number 3056
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 1996 08:30:32 PDT

One way to deal with clueless clients is to set one's "consultant" hat
firmly on one's head (tossing away the one marked "temporary help").

As a consultant, the most important task is to identify and suggest
corrections to problems. Your second most important task is to actually
correct the problems.

Periodically reporting on the project's status (and distributing the
report properly) helps quite a bit. Concise status reports that can
be read and understood quickly often spur people into something resembling

One possible format goes like this:




(things that got done)


(I'd put this in a table)

Review of First Draft
1. Reviews not turned in One week and growing
(list of missing copies)
2. Reviews performed by Unknown, est. at 2 weeks
non-experts instead of
the requested experts
(list of switcheroos)
3. Reviews returned without Unknown, est. at 2 weeks
(list of names)

COMMENTARY: The failure of the design team to perform the comprehensive
review, as agreed, is an extremely ominous sign at this early stage of
the documentation process. Unless the agreed-upon thorough review is
produced right away, it will be impossible to produce the kind of
accurate, thorough, timely documentation that I was engaged to create.
Perhaps you should consider abandoning this documentation project
entirely, as the necessary support seems to be lacking.

If you like, I can create a new proposal that assumes that the engineering
staff will be no more helpful than they have been so far. The necessary
reverse-engineering will make the project more expensive, less accurate,
and considerably later than it would have been under our original plan,
but it will put less of a burden on your technical staff.

Yours Truly,

John Q. Publications.


Such a report takes your professional judgement and turns it into something
that management can use to make decisions. That's what consultants are
for. You've given them the bad news and shown them three of their four
basic choices (which are to drop the document, muster up some commitment,
switch to the working-in-a-vacuum mode, or -- not mentioned -- drop the
consultant and shop around for a second opinion).

Most importantly, it puts management in charge of making the business
decisions. They now have to explicitly face facts or dismiss them.
YOU are only shouldering the burden of holding up your end. THEY are
responsible for holding up their end, and you're making it easy for
them by pointing out all the things that are and are not working.

-- 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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