Re: SMEs

Subject: Re: SMEs
From: Kat Nagel <katnagel -at- EZNET -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 28 May 1999 07:42:14 -0400

At 07:02 PM 05/27/1999 -0400, Chris Kowalchuk wrote:
> Now, if you are talking about a SME reviewing
>existing documentation because only the SME can tell if it is out of
>date etc., then that's a different story, and you probably need some
>kind of periodic review process that nobody is too willing to buy into,
>because it implies regular, ongoing work that has not been budgeted for.

I've had pretty good luck with this one on projects for a couple of clients.

For one project, I had an engineer who was a wonderful nitpicker. He just
loved finding errors in someone else's work. We spent several lunch hours
(I paid, but the company reimbursed me for expenses) reviewing the old
manual page by page. He had to eat anyway, so it didn't take any extra
time for him, and I wound up with a detailed list of the changes needed and
the resources available---which engineer worked on which part of the
machine, which archived report had the information I'd need, etc.

The other project was tougher: a rescue job after the first writer was
fired and the second left in a frustrated rage. I had to sit in a meeting
with 4 chemists and their 5 managers (that's right, 5 managers for a
4-person department; what's wrong with this picture...) where all nine
people spent two hours generally bitching about the out-of-date
documentation and the incompetence of technical writers. When I asked for
specifics of the problems---page references or even topic headers---they
couldn't or wouldn't give them. "It's all terrible, and you writers are to

I tore the manual into 4 pieces (shoddy binding) and handed each piece to
one of the chemists. Then I turned to the managers. "I could spend months
learning every aspect of your product and writing up my opinion of what
needs changing. After 3 or 4 review cycles, we might have something worth
submitting for usability testing. At $XX/hour, that would cost you at
least $YY,YYY. On the other hand, each of your people could spend an hour
with a highlighter marking the specific facts that are wrong, and then
spend a half hour telling me where to get the information I need to fix
them. Then I could concentrate on those bits and have a decent draft of
the updated manual for you in three weeks."

After a few minutes of silence, five pairs of managerial eyes bored into
four SME skulls. "Get out your calendars," said the senior manager. The
rest of the project went quite smoothly <evil grin>.

Kat Nagel
MasterWork Consulting Services
katnagel -at- eznet -dot- net

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