Re: Documentation Management

Subject: Re: Documentation Management
From: Peter Collins <peter -dot- collins -at- BIGFOOT -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 24 Sep 1998 17:36:03 +1000

Dear Keith, you wrote
"My two questions are: is the writer a manager as well as writer, and
also, should I walk away from this project which seems to be more
documentation management (even though the IPs seem to value this
to a small degree), or try to slug it out. It seems as though I've got
to beg, plead, and become a real SOB, write well, and provide graphic
design skills for this position all at once. Am I Super Technical
here or what? Help."

This is par for the course. I have never had a contract which WASN'T
like that. Making friends with the content experts helps some, but not
a whole heap.The graphics won't turn up. You will have to mock up
something yourself, perhaps from clip-art, to show the sort of thing
needed. Memo your mananager or your status report with the list of
graphics still required and the reference points in your work where
they should go. List the info you need and send a friendly memo the
content experts, with a plea for their time and note that you will
call later to discuss with them. Do so, and confirm the arrangements
(or lack thereof) in writing. Each week report your status and what
data or other inputs are behind schedule and impacting the completion
date. Be nice, be firm, be patient, and accept rejection with a smile.

Note how the others in the section manage. Probably they make much of
it up themselves and leave it to the QA to correct their assumptions.
If you do the same, note it in your status report - 'to maintain
schedule, sections xx - yyy have been prepared as unsubstantiated
draft and are yet to be audited and corrected by the content
experts.'. Maybe others who seem to cope better are actually on the
verge of tears much of the time. Do they seem to work much longer
hours than they are paid? Do some parts of the manuals just get
skimped, or left right out? Is there a high turn-over of writers - are
there others who are new too? Are most of the others new? There are
other signs and symptoms, I am sure.

Are there any permanent writers? How do they cope? What do they
suggest? Is your manager a writer or is that position based on other
skills? What does your manager suggest? Do you prepare a weekly status
report? (What I intended for this week, what got done and did not get
done and why and what you suggest be done about it, which inputs you
needed from whom that did not get to you. Then what you will get done
next week, what inputs you need and from whom and by when, what
problems you forsee meeting that target to the agreed quality, what
you propose be done about those problems.). Do you put the report in
to your manager on Friday pm and make a time to discuss it on Monday
pm? What does the manager say about it? Do you take notes at that
meeting and adjust your plan as negotiated with the manager at that
meeting and present an update which is what you then work to for the
rest of the week? Do you include on your status report a statement of
the elapsed time and time to complete? It should contain or imply the
following elements.
Original estimate 10 weeks
Time elapsed 5 weeks Origianl estimate 4 weeks Slip to
date 1 week
Time to finish 7 weeks Original estimate 6 weeks Future
slip 1 week
Final completion 12 weeks Original estimate 10 weeks Total slip
2 weeks

On some projects you will be asked to prepare a writing plan and
schedule of stages, then keep your own status written up along the
preceding lines. This can take up to a week at the start of the
project, and an hour or so at the start and end of each week. Less
than 10% of your time on this is good going. Less than 10% of your
time would be excellent on chasing up a work-space, computer,
pass-words, and unsuccessful access to content experts. If you can
keep your productive authoring time (interviewing for content,
writing, being reviewed and correcting) up to 80% of your paid hours,
then I will happily pay you a fee for the secret. I think I do very
well to keep it above 60% in the 'normal' workplace, though I once got
it up to 90% when working directly with the programmer who was himself
a reasonable writer, and had miraculously put the time aside, ASKED to
be interrupted at any time, AND MEANT IT!

I am always happy to go back to a contract client for repeat work, but
I suspect some may find it easier to be a right SOB, get the job done,
and try elsewhere for the next one.

hope this helps, even if only by adjusting your expectation.
Peter Collins, VIVID Management Pty Ltd,
26 Bradleys Head Road, MOSMAN 2088, Australia
+61 2 9968 3308, fax +61 2 9968 3026, mobile +61 (0)18 419 571
Management Consultants and Technical Writers
email: peter -dot- collins -at- bigfoot -dot- com ICQ#: 10981283
web pages:

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