Tech Pubs Utopia

Subject: Tech Pubs Utopia
From: Andrew Plato <intrepid_es -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Fri, 1 Oct 1999 00:04:16 -0700 (PDT)

Okay, someone challenged me in private email to describe the perfect tech pubs
group. Since I have spent the last few posts slamming things, now I'll give
back. I am sure there is something like this in the archives - but not from me.
And since I am a self-serving twerp I am going to write my own.

What is Tech Pubs Utopia? (Plato MegaTardis Method)


All work is broken into logical projects. A project should be reasonable for 1
writer to complete in the allotted time frame. Ideally, no two writers should
work on the same document. 1 writer = 1 document. All work - even internal
work - is assigned a project. Projects should always have a target date and
realistic review points. A project is always ranked as Internal or External.
Internal projects must never exceed external projects. In other words, tech
pubs should be writing documents more than developing processes to write


The team and management remain 100% solution-focused. When a problem arises
blame is never assigned. Rather involved people immediately begin to devise a
solution. There is NEVER an acceptable time to blame. Mistakes are not problems
they are opportunities for learning.

Roman Law

A good tech pubs group lives by guidelines, expectations and goals (Roman Law)
- not rules, regulations, and restrictions (English Law). Employees are
empowered to make decisions about their work. Employees are also expected to
defend those decisions and be willing to relinquish them if there are
overriding factors.

Experienced, Involved, "Service-Oriented" Management

Good tech pubs department is lead by a writing veteran who is actively involved
in *some* of the projects he/she oversees. A good manager writes and edits in
addition to managing the group. A good manager should not edit all work in the
group. There should be some cross-team editing. A good manager is
"service-oriented". His her job is to service his/her people making sure they
have the tools, technologies, access, and environment to be productive. A good
manager makes decisions from experience, not from a rule book or corporate
mandates. A good manager puts the good of the project and his/her team first
and his/her personal desires second.

A good manager always leads by example, never by decree. A good manager can
step in an do *everyone?s* job if necessary.

Flexible, Open, Communicative Environment

A good team is highly flexible. It can change gears quickly and effectively.
All team members are honest, forthright, and assertive with each other and
other employees. There are no hidden agendas. Pettiness, office politics, and
indecision are never rewarded. People have thick skin and can take criticism.
Good writers are often well trained in rhetoric (how to argue) and thus
understand that criticism can be both useful and debated.

Responsibility and Accountability

Writers are assigned projects for which they are totally responsible.
Responsibilities are posted in a public place (internal web site, white board,
etc.) and kept up to date. A writer is wholly responsible for his/her work.
Failure to deliver on time and within expectations is unacceptable. Repeatedly
missing deadlines and expectations is understood to be grounds for termination.
Admonishments are never, ever given in public. Likewise, when projects go
well, praise is given publicly.

Weekly Expectations / Goal Setting

In place of a process, the team regularly sets the expectations and goals for
individual projects. Goals should remain only as specific as necessary. If
there is no overwhelmingly compelling reason to dictate details, then don't.
The best goals are very brief and concise.


A good tech pubs group is respected in the company and controls technical
information in the company. This means the tech pubs group has unlimited
access to all information about the company (within reason). A good tech pubs
department cultivates open and respectful relationships with all sources of
information - especially engineering. Writers are encouraged to form solid,
professional relationships with their subject matter experts. Personality
clashes are handled respecfully and professionally without whining,
complaining, and fatalism. If problems persist, the management should always
step in and attempt to solve the problem.


A good tech pubs department sees itself as providing a service to other groups.
It must answer to those groups as well as to the end-users. If the other
groups (particularly engineering) do not respect the work of tech pubs, then
tech pubs will never be able to produce quality documentation.

Simple Missions

A tech pubs department is suppose to produce documentation. It is not a place
for engineering, marketing, sales, or setting of corporate policy. Tech pubs
is suppose to publish technical stuff. Anything that detracts from that is a
waste of time. However, tech pubs must also interface regularly with these
other groups and therefore must understand what they do - almost as well as the
people in those other groups.

Good Pay

Good writers should be paid well. A productive, intelligent, and respectful
writer can save a company millions. A bitter, resentful, shirking writer can
cost the company billions.

Performance Metrics

All team members and management understand that the process of measuring
performance is inherently subjective. Therefore, performance reviewing is a
task solely for management. All employees are expected to regularly (quarterly
is what I use) write a "Personal Review" report which outlines accomplishments,
goals, anything the employee feels is important to tell management. There is
no structure, no rules, no process - just a regular performance chat between
management and team members. Employees have the option to speak with their
manager's manger if desired.

Ultimate Professionalism

Professionalism is a dying concept in today?s world. Just because you can wear
jeans to work does not mean you can become a slob and insult people. A
professional writer takes responsibility for his/her work and his/her team.
This means being respectful of others including different work styles. A
professional understands that it is normal - even preferable - that each person
work in a different manner. A professional helps out when asked, and asks for
help when it is truly needed. A professional shows up to work on time,
respects other people's time, and respects the goals and environment of his/her
company. A professional can see the role of his group in the entire
organization. A professional takes the time to know his/her company, their
financial status, their long term strategic goals, their marketing and sales
goals, and their products and services. A professional supports his/her
company and take pride in what they do - even if the company makes mistakes in
the market place.

Extensive Academic and Training Opportunities

A good tech pubs department encourages ALL members to take classes and training
that is directly related to his/her work. All team members and management
should be extensively trained on the services and products their company
offers. A good writer can be a makeshift sales person AND engineer of his/her
company's products. A good tech pubs department accepts that a good writer is
a well trained, well educated writer - all knowledge is good knowledge.


All organizations offer some kind of product or service. Even governmental
organizations offer something - perhaps a service. A good tech pubs department
focuses on explaining the products and technologies their organization offers
in a clear and concise manner. Knowledge of tools and techniques is always
secondary to possessing an intimate and extensive understanding of what the
writer is documenting.

Peer-Review, Everyone is an Editor

Ideally, there should be no "editor" position in the group. All writers should
have to edit other writers' work. All projects should have at least one writer
assigned to edit the document. This writer must be on a different project.
Editing work gives other writers a chance to see what their peers are doing.
The primary writer ALWAYS reserves the right to reject edits.

Mentoring Program

A good tech pubs department has a program to hire entry-level writers and train
them by writing documents. Entry-level writers should be held to the same
expectations and deadlines as senior writers.

Last but most important....

A Sense of Humor

When a group of people get together the one thing that consistently separates
the productive from the deadwood is humor. The best groups have a personality
all of their own and it is usually indicative of the manager's personality.
This is why humorless drones who believe the universe is one great big
spreadsheet should NEVER become managers. A good manager doesn't stress out
about every little thing. Problems and issues are taken seriously, but can be
joked about. No two people have the same personality - AND THAT IS GOOD.
Those differences and diversity should be celebrated and embraced. When I work
with a team, I almost always have cute little names for the projects. I also
pay attention to people who will understand a gross joke, vs those that won't.
There is no reason a group of people cannot get along even if they all have
different personalities. It just takes a little respect and a lot of good
natured humor.

Well, that is all I can come up with now. I will mention a few things tech
pubs departments DO NOT need:

- Rigid, detailed style guides.
- Overabundance of internal projects. At any given time the group should NEVER
have more than 50% internal projects.
- Intolerance: There is no place for holy wars and technology obsessions.
- Ignorance: there is no place for remaining ignorant.
- Layers of management. A tech pubs group should have three positions:
manager, senior tech writer, tech writer. There is no need to give people
fancy meaningless titles.
- Any process, procedure, rule, regulation, or guideline that is not
100%disposable at a moments' notice.

I think that is a good start. Like I said, I am sure others have some
additions. I am also sure some of you will think this list is all wrong.

Hey - I should sell this stuff. I feel a seminar somewhere in here. A seminar
with lots of waxy pastries, a start time of 7:00 am, and located at some sleazy
Airport hotel.

"Yes, that seminar is in the Bellevue Room, that's next to the Grueling
Monotonous Lecture Room and the Ninth Layer of Hell Room. Here, allow Virgil to
show you to your room."

Yawn. Sleepy time.

Andrew Plato


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