Re: SERIOUS: Formal vs. informal organizations

Subject: Re: SERIOUS: Formal vs. informal organizations
From: Chris Despopoulos <cud -at- ARRAKIS -dot- ES>
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 1999 17:31:38 +0100

Andrew Plato said the following after pointing out that he
whomped up a manual in less time than it took his employers
to decide on the style...

This got me thinking. Why was it that I blazed
through a doc set in
two months and they couldn't even move in that
short of time? The
writers there were not stupid (some were). They
had tool and training
opportunities galore.

That's when I noticed how formal their
organization was. Those people
couldn't move an inch with out an intricate series
of approvals and
reviews. Thus, any movement became a waste of
time. It was easier to
complain about work than to do the work and then
get chastised for not
following the rules.

First, I have to say that of course, there are cases where
people get into the policy/procedure rut to the exclusion of
accomplishing meaningful work (work... the transfer of
energy when force is applied to a body). But let me also
add that I worked for a company that delivered 4 products on
three different platforms in I forget how many languages
every 18 months, and really came close to releasing all 12 x
num_of_langs within 30 days. In that environment, changing
a phrase from "...on the Blah menu" to "...from the Blah
menu" could be very costly if you wanted consistency and a
professional appearance in your docs. When I started, I too
strained at the formality, but soon learned (the hard way)
that abusing the style guide was more costly than following

That said, my point is this... The value of formality
depends entirely upon the situation. Full compliance with
ISO-9000 probably doesn't make sense if your system can't
kill or maim people (or if it doesn't support one that can),
although some people make their business decisions to the
contrary. On the other hand, just letting a gaggle of
people march to the beat of their own drummers, (drumming is
big in California) may not make sense either. It's up to
the team/department/corporation/(and yes)customers to decide
just how formal the situation should be. I've seen it work
both ways, and I've seen it fail both ways.

<cudAnimation loopFile="Wagging_Finger_Of_Accusation">
That said, I hope Andrew's mail reader can play my
proprietary animation code. Um, what I mean is, if I'm
contracting for a company that wants to spend months or even
years on style meetings I can't seem to understand, it's my
responsibility to deliver what they ask for. I can go home
and whomp up the full doc set in two days, but I can't
deliver it until the style is set and I munge my work into
compliance. If I simply can't bear the situation, then I'm
free to speak my mind to the appropriate people, and we may
even arrive at an amicable parting of ways. I certainly
don't know all the particulars in Andrew's case... but
perhaps there are tactful ways to interact with an
organization that is more formal than you believe is

And finally, as documentation looks more and more like data
in a data base, you can expect to see an increase in
formality. More people will be involved in engineering the
delivery, and perhaps may outnumber the writers in some
circumstances. This is one possible outcome of all the fun
we're having today with HTML, etc. So I suspect we will all
need to come to terms with formality of one sort or another
in the not too distant future.


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