Anon.: Standards frustration?

Subject: Anon.: Standards frustration?
From: "Geoff Hart (by way of \"Eric J. Ray\" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>)" <ght -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Fri, 5 Feb 1999 07:08:59 -0700

That most prolific of authors, Anonymous, is having problems working
for a company where the apples are sweet, but full of worms:

<<..."standards" are nonexistent. There is a committee trying to
create them, but à They're setting standards for technical
install/config docs - I do end-user stuff The person in charge of
install/config docs (written for techies) thinks the user docs should
be laid out and worded the same way. (our users are VERY uninformed
and tech-scared)>>

Whenever you're in a situation with nonexistant standards, you need
to try to find someone with the authority to implement a "working"
standard until the final version is ready. Given that you have a
standards committee that is seriously out of touch with _your_
audience (even if they understand their own techie audience, which
I'm not prepared to bet on), you need to get someone important on
your side to give weight to your opinions. That's likely the
training, technical support, marketing, or customer relations
manager, depending on who does what at your company. With them to
back you, you can go to your boss and say: "Until the standards are
settled, and based on Joe and Jane managers' opinions of the audience
I'm writing for, I'd like to adopt the following style for the next
couple of months." If it works as well as it should, then your
"working" standard will probably be the one adopted by the standards

If you can't pull this off, then you can think laterally: complete
all your work, but don't submit it to the standards committee. When
your time is up, hand in the work accompanied by a polite note
explaining that you've done your best, using your own standard, to
produce documentation that any of the other writers can easily
convert to match the company standard.

<<The "nice" people I work with often spend their day playing Quake
on their laptops. I am now working on 61 documents, and can't seem
to get any help to finish them I can't finish the docs until I get a
standard template>>

Sounds like there's a pretty serious management problem at your
company. Would an anonymous suggestion to Personnel get someone to
investigate whether playing Quake on the company's time is really
why they hired these people?

I'm hoping those 61 docs you're working on are small, FAQ types of
things, because if not, then you've dug yourself an awfully deep
hole: that's something like two docs per day by the time you leave.
I strongly suggest you do two things: First, work fast and hard to
get permission to use your own "working" standard until there's a
real standard in place. With that out of the way, you're at least
able to do the work you're being paid for. Second, the most important
thing for you to do is to document what you need to document, and
(excuse my bluntness) screw the standard. If you can at least get the
important facts documented in a style that users can use, it's
relatively trivial to rework those facts into "company style". After
all, anyone can apply a template, but it takes a skilled techwhirler
to present all the facts in a useful manner. They hired you for the
latter role.

<<I end up getting extra work because I am so good at the
documentation stuff, that I get procedures to do, as well as things
like phone lists, etc.>>

I hate to go all Republican on you, particularly since I'm a Canadian
<g>, but you might want to borrow a line from one of your leaders:
"Read my lips: no new docs". Insist on finishing what you've already
got on your plate before you take on new work. If you're really
feeling nasty, you might want to suggest that Fred down the hall
seems to have lots of free time to do the work given that he spends
so much time playing Quake. You're not going to make any friends that
way, so I can't really recommend this approach, but boy, does it feel

<<...every document I do has to be approved by the "standards

That's a common misapprehension. If that committee doesn't have a
final standard in place, you might want to point out that the whole
standards review of your documents is a waste of time: if there's no
standard, what are they trying to hold you to? OTOH, if I've
misunderstood you and there is a working standard, then stop beating
your head against the wall. Write to the standard, and file a polite
letter with Personnel, your boss, and the head of the standards
committee (with a copy to your contract agency) that you consider the
standard problematic; explain why diplomatically, without attacking
the people involved, back up your opinion with facts, and propose
solutions. End result: You've done the job your employer hired you to
do, but you've also satisfied professional ethics by explaining why
that's the wrong thing and how to fix it.

<<I am concerned that when my contract ends, I will get a terrible
reference because the projects aren't done.>>

Explain this situation to your contract agency. It's kind of late in
the game to be reporting the problem, but at least you can explain
what's going on and what you've done about it. If you've acted
professionally and done as much work as you can under the
circumstances, then hopefully at least your agency will have a good
opinion of you. But next time, don't wait so long to raise the issue
and come up with a solution.

<<I am concerned that they will want to hire me full-time (they've
been hinting about it). I am concerned that they won't hire me
full-time, and then I'll have a crappy reference, no new job, and no
job prospects.>>

Doesn't sound like the kind of company I'd want to work at. With that
kind of management void, things are likely to get far worse before
they get better. I think a lot of your fear could have been resolved
if you'd been reporting the problem to both your boss and your agency
all along the way, but now that you're at the end of your contract
and the end of your rope, start talking fast. Get your work done (as
I mentioned above), explain your worries to your boss and agency, and
make it clear enough that you're doing your best that both will end
up with the opinion that you've acted professionally.

<<I feel like I'm getting walked on, but I don't know if it's worth
trying to stop, because my contract will be up in about 1 1/2 months.
Is it worth it?>>

It's always worth it. First, you need to stand up for yourself at
least once so you get into the habit. Second, you need to keep up
your professionalism: you don't win races by relaxing in the final
stretch. Third, there's still time to complete much of your work and
get that good reference before you leave. And I do recommend leaving;
there's always work for good people, and there's no need to put up
with this kind of nonsense. It's a writer's market these days: use
that to your advantage.
--Geoff Hart @8^{)} Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

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

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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