Presentation on the documentation process?

Subject: Presentation on the documentation process?
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 09:01:02 -0400

Krista Van Laan is <<...going to give a presentation on the
documentation process to the engineers and probably some
marketing people. Has anyone had any luck doing the same
thing or any ideas on how to make it interesting?>>

Make the meeting interactive, and fill it with the kinds of
twiddly things engineers like to play with. And make it a
visceral lesson in how the current documentation process
makes it tough to get your job done. Here's one way you
could do this:

Bring a pile of Lego to the meeting, and place it on a table in
the midst of the engineers. Make sure it's not sorted into
anything approximating a useful order (e.g., don't put all the
long ones in one pile, all the short ones in another). Remove a
few key pieces that are necessary for the project. Display a
functional specifications document for something moderately
complex, but that could be built in about 5 minutes, and tell
them whoever can build the thing first gets bragging rights in
the staff newsletter plus something more tangible such as a
box of Godiva's chocolates (or whatever other prize you think
will motivate them...Pokemon cards, if that's what turns them

Give them a few moments to scramble and fight each other
for access to the box of Lego. Keep a close eye on things,
and when one of them looks like they're approximately
finished (they can't actually finish, since you've hidden those
few key parts), have your companion stop them all and claim
that there's been a change in specs: "Wait, I just had a better
idea!" Put up a new specification that requires them to tear
apart most of what they've already built, and reassemble it
into something new; specify a different color of Lego, or
double the size of the product.

Again, when they're getting close, interrupt them: "Sorry
guys: just got new marching orders from marketing..." Put up
another specification, much like the original one, but bigger,
and this time one something that doesn't require them to use
the missing components. Let one of them finish this time.
Bring your champion up to the front of the hall, start to hand
over the prize, then have your companion snatch it away
again. "Sorry... we need to add wheels to it now!" After
everyone laughs, relent and let the poor sap have the prize.

This pretty much covers the whole documentation cycle:
changing specifications, last-minute additions after the docs
have been frozen, creeping featuritis, and inadequate
resources. If you really want to be cruel, add in peer review
and let the other engineers tear apart the finished model (e.g.,
"it's all different colors: make it again in red only", "no, I like
the rainbow effect better", "wait a minute, you missed a two-
bump Lego here...", etc.).

Even if they don't learn anything from the process, think how
much fun you'll have watching them do what you do for a
living. <eg>

--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
that it is only a pernicious, Pythagorean coincidence." George Miller, "The Magical Number Seven" (1956)

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