Quality, Documentation, and Mental Blocks

Subject: Quality, Documentation, and Mental Blocks
From: Joe Miller <joemiller -at- CANBERRA -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 2 Dec 1997 16:52:06 -0500

Since the first clause of the STC mission statement is to improve the
quality of documentation, I think this discussion is of great importance!

Arlen Walker <Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com> shared terrific observations
about ISO 9000 and quality. I defer to his experience, but I have dealt with
quality documentation issues in general and ISO 9000 certification in
particular, and I observe that writers wrestling with the concept of
"documentation quality" tend to hit a series of mental blocks. (You
can see it in this discussion.) Sometimes writers are never able to
overcome these blocks.

BLOCK #1: Creative art cannot be qualified; technical writing is a creative
art; therefore, technical writing cannot be qualified.

If you can't get past this, you can't even begin the quality journey.
Amateur programmers hide behind this same block and refuse to write specs.
I liken the documentation process more to a manufacturing process,
where similarities are more relevant than differences.

This is a hard perspective to take as an individual working on one document,
but immediately apparent if you look at an aggregate group.
This year, for example, our writing group will produce about 80 documents.
They are NOT all individual, unique, creative works! They are more similar
than different.

BLOCK #2: Consistency is not quality; consistently produced junk is
still junk.

Consistency is the foundation of quality; Deming said that quality IS
consistency; ISO attempts to enforce consistency. I think there's a
mini-block within this block that says "quality means HIGH quality."
Not so; quality means consistent quality.

Let's say you're the purchasing agent for a large company, looking to buy
1,000,000 widgets. You invite three vendors to submit prototypes,
and pick the one that works best. Once you approve delivery of the
remaining widgets, you suddenly care deeply about the vendor's
ability to deliver consistent quality. ISO 9000 specifically applies here.

BLOCK #3: The quality of a document is composed of an infinite number of
elements, making it beyond measure.

I actually agree with this statement, but I apply the Pareto Principle.
There may be an infinite number of variables or measurements, but a
relative handful of critical ones give a good approximation of the overall

There may be an infinite set of differences between Ken Griffey Jr. and
Joe DiMaggio, but a half-dozen measurements will tell the bulk of the tale.

-- Steve

Steven Jong, Documentation Group Leader ("Typo? What tpyo?")
Lightbridge, Inc, 67 S. Bedford St., Burlington, MA 01803 USA
mailto:SJong -at- lightbridge -dot- com 781.359.4902[V], 781.359.4500[F]
Home Sweet Homepage: http://members.aol.com/SteveFJong

http://www.documentation.com/, or http://www.dejanews.com/

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