Time-consuming work? (Plus thoughts on value-added.)

Subject: Time-consuming work? (Plus thoughts on value-added.)
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Tue, 12 Oct 1999 09:48:14 -0400

Genevieve Burt was <<...hired by a small engineering
company to save their engineers from having to spend time on
documentation. I am their first and only tech writer.>>

This isn't the question you asked (I'll get to that in a moment),
but it occurs to me that we've all been missing a rather
interesting way to demonstrate the value we add to our
companies. Think of it this way, using nice round numbers to
make the math easy: If your company pays engineers or
software developers $100 per hour (benefits included), and
you do 40 hours per week of documentation work (at a pay
rate of $50/hour, benefits included), then you're saving your
company 40 x ($10-$50) = $2000 per week by freeing up the
SMEs to smee (now there's a verb for you!) rather than
writing documentation. I strongly suspect that might be worth
mentioning that at your next performance appraisal...

<<I have also been given the task of converting dozens and
dozens of old manuals from WP to Word...>>

I like the notion of using an intern because this not only saves
you time, but also gives someone new to the techwhirler
world valuable experience they can put on their resume. Plus,
if you're going to be billing the client for the conversion work
anyway (as you suggested in your note), you can actually pay
the intern some of those ill-gotten gains, and I've met very
few students who had enough money to really enjoy
university. <g> You'll have to budget some of your time for
supervision, of course, and figure out an efficient way to
confirm that the intern has done _all_ the work properly, but
you should still end up saving some time. Better still, if your
company keeps growing, you may find that the intern will
make a great permanent employee in a few years, after
graduation.

<<They don?t want me to edit these old manuals for clarity
(they need it), or to make them more user-friendly (they need
that too), I?m just supposed to convert them to Word with a
smile.>>

There are two productive approaches here. First, you could
use the time you free up by hiring an intern to do some "no
extra cost" improvements while you're verifying that the
intern did the conversion correctly. Given the size of the job
you mentioned, you won't likely be able to do a full rewrite,
but you should easily be able to fix the most glaring problems
and improve the overall quality. Second, you might be able to
sell your bosses on taking this opportunity to spend even
more time to fully update the documentation and pass some
(or even all) of the cost on to your client; that would leave
your client with a more satisfactory documentation set, and
your company would gain better documentation at little or no
extra cost to them. (That quality could then be passed on to
other customers.) Think through how you might do this, and
see if you can't use this to earn more than a few additional
goodwill points on your next performance appraisal!

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"Perhaps there is something deep and profound behind all those sevens, something just calling out for us to discover it. But I suspect
that it is only a pernicious, Pythagorean coincidence." George Miller, "The Magical Number Seven" (1956)




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