Measuring writing efficiency?

Subject: Measuring writing efficiency?
From: "Geoff Hart (by way of \"Eric J. Ray\" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>)" <ght -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Thu, 4 Feb 1999 11:58:38 -0700

Peg Rickard has <<...been given the task to quantify the efficiency
of our technical writing department. I'm not sure how to measure
efficiency/productivity.>>

There's no way to measure something until you can accurately describe
what you're trying to measure. Sit down with your manager and define
"efficiency" before you do anything else. Once you've done that, then
you can try to figure out how to measure it. Try to steer your
manager away from the obvious and unproductive types of efficiency
measurements. In the examples that follow, I'll use "per day" as the
time basis, but substitute whatever time basis suits you.

Extremely bad measures of efficiency:
- pages per day: Here's a wonderful one, because all you need to do
is decrease your page size by 50% and instantly everyone's become
twice as efficient.
- words per day: Another wonderful idea. Never use one word where six
will do. After all, it takes about as long to type 6 poorly chosen
words as it does to find and type one appropriate word, but look
how much more efficient you are if you type 6!
- topics per day: That means the lucky techwhirler who get to
document the Shut down computer topic is probably 10 times as
efficient as the poor sap who has to document Windows Explorer.
- number of fields per day: all else being equal, each field takes a
comparable amount of time to document. But it's still not great
because if one SME is happy to help with describing fields and another
isn't, guess which field will be documented more efficiently?

See the pattern? Purely numeric measurements are useless unless they
directly relate to quality, which is a whole other issue.

Considerably better measures of efficiency:
- number of errors or rewrites: If you do it right the first time,
that's efficient because you don't waste the SME's time finding your
errors and your own time rewriting things.
- how well you meet your deadlines: Of course, if the deadlines are
unreasonable, you still won't be seen as efficient, but at least this
is headed in the right direction.

On the whole, I lean towards a sloppy but satisfying definition of
efficiency: Producing a "good enough" (and hopefully better) product
on schedule, without wrecking anyone else's schedule by constantly
interrupting them with my queries and interviews (particularly when
I could find the information myself).
--Geoff Hart @8^{)} Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Patience comes to those who wait."--Anon.


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