Re: Mission Statements

Subject: Re: Mission Statements
From: Sandra Charker <scharker -at- MASTERPACK -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Sun, 10 Aug 1997 21:26:29 +1000

Kari D. Alt wrote:

>My Technical Communications group is in the process of developing a
mission statement <snip><

and got some pretty negative comments about top-down corporate mission
statements and canned personal development courses. I don't have much time
for either of those things, but I did want my documentation group to
develop a mission statement. I just didn't give the thing a name.

I've been with this company for 10 months, during which we released our
first GUI client for a product that's in its 6th release. Documentation has
always been online, written by developers and edited by the one
'documenter', except that when I started there hadn't been any documenter
for over 6 months. We're now a group of three and I'm negotiating for a
fourth, but still, bringing the help up to professional standards and
moving the departmental processes so that developers brain-dump and writers
write is ummm.. a challenge <G>.

Every day we confront inconsistencies of audience, style, spelling, tone,
terminology, punctuation, capitalization.. you name it. (One writer says
she always knows when I've come across something really bad because I back
away from my terminal and stare at it for a while with folded arms, sizing
up the enemy.) That's for fixes and mods. At the same time, there are new
developments in progress where we have a chance to do the job properly, but
which have to fit in with some part or another of the existing system.
Obviously the Style Guide is a critical tool for us, but I believe that
another critical tool is an explicit statement of what we're trying to

Our statement at the moment says: "Users see our help as an approachable
authority figure they respect." That's the result of discussions during our
last post-project review, which started with a question about tone. Is it a
motherhood statement? Is it tautologous? Yes I suppose so, but because we
worked it out it carries a lot of meaning for us, and I intend that we'll
keep adding meaning to it as well as thinking about how to come closer to
it. Asking a teaser question like that one about tone is on my checklist
for every post-project review, along with 'Style Guide enhancements

We use our mission-statement-by-any-other-name during peer reviews of user
documentation and of the Style Guide, and it's helped me extract
information from a particularly recalcitrant developer. It's a useful tool
for us now, but I agree with Tim Altom that it needs an implementation plan
and measurable achievement criteria. Got the plan; getting measurable
achievement criteria that are also useful to us is more difficult.

Anyway Kari, you didn't say whether your group is developing a mission
statement because it wants one or because it's been told to. If Mission
Statements have been mandated it might be hard for your group to get past
the management bafflegab, but I still think it's worth trying. Good luck.

Sandra Charker
mailto:scharker -at- masterpack -dot- com -dot- au

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