Re: Productivity Measurements

Subject: Re: Productivity Measurements
From: Michael Johnson <michaelj -at- OECMED -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 2 Feb 1998 19:39:08 -0700

Earlier today Tony Rocco asked us how to measure tech writer productivity.

I wish I had a good answer to this one. After 20 years in the business I have seen just about every kind of measure used, very little of it accurate to any usable degree. Tony, I can tell you what to avoid with much more confidence than I can advise you what to do.

My previous boss (and his boss) used the Cro-Magnon method to evaluate technical writers: hours per page. Although this is probably the least accurate measure, non-writing or pseudo-writer managers love it because it allows them to dodge other elements that require writing ability and experience to evaluate. Among other things, they don't have to consider a writer's ingenuity, technical savvy, ability to ferret out information, ability to communicate with the customer and SMEs, and ability to produce clear, succinct, accurate, complete, grammatically correct, usable books. In fact, they get to ignore the quality issues altogether.

While these same managers get the pounds of pages that initially make them look like heroes, sooner or later, things come crashing down. First, the field engineers scream about how poor the books are. Then the customers themselves find the plagiarism of previous manuals, boatloads of baloney, mountains of misinformation, and reams of non-specific rumination that's supposed to be helpful troubleshooting and maintenance information. Then the customers find to their horror that lack of quality characterizes the product as well as the documentation. Next come the cash flow problems, layoffs, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

Tony, if your management insists that hours-per-page is the only way to evaluate writers, take it as a sign from a merciful Creator and update your resume.

Mike Johnson
Salt Lake City, Utah




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