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Subject:re: dredging information From:"Alex Silbajoris" <alsilba -at- hotmail -dot- com> To:techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com Date:Tue, 30 Nov 1999 06:12:11 PST
In my own experience, I?ve had varying luck in getting information from
developers and other Subject Matter Experts. One skill I?ve been able to
apply from my journalism degree is the fast interview. Instead of asking
for an hour of SME time, I ask for ten, maybe fifteen minutes. I prepare
by exhausting every other source (such as existing specs, etc.) and
sometimes it?s useful to go ahead and make a draft based on some best-guess
estimates of what the documentation is trying to describe. (This can
include incorporating the inaccuracies of early specs, whether you recognize
them or not.) At the meeting, I have either a list of specific questions or
a draft ready for red-lining, and I don?t have to waste any time fishing
blindly. Some SMEs (well, most I?ve dealt with) express their appreciation,
and this helps to establish a good relationship. If they feel like you are
paying attention and attempting to anticipate their needs, they don?t feel
like time spent with you is like talking to a brick wall.
When the SMEs seek you out, saying something like ?I?ll bet you can produce
this little thing I need?? or ?here?s another source document you can look
at? you know you have their professional respect.
Which leads to my second observation: having a good rapport with your
sources can be invaluable. In some places I?ve worked, the developers scorn
the writers and that is that, have a nice day, don?t let the door hit your
rear end as you leave. (As others on this list have observed, some
developers do not welcome the creation of any record of their work.) But in
most places the SMEs and other sources are actually human, and your
professional relationship can include a personal element. For example, I?ve
been able to use my interest in hot peppers to find a conversation starter ?
no kidding! Others might find some sports team allegiance, or soccer-mom
issues, or even a shared interest in some local bar or restaurant.
This might seem like nothing more than incidental trivia, but it gives the
SME a reason to want to speak to you, aside from whatever other professional
communications you may have. This has helped me even in a situation when
the SME ?did not get along with the previous writer? and the work was not
progressing. It has also helped when the manager of the SMEs disallowed
them to speak to the trainers because of time concerns ? we would actually
sneak in some redline sessions over coffee in the lunchroom, on our break
time. Kind of like passing notes in school.
If you can?t develop the personal element of the professional relationship.
you risk losing your access to the freshest sources of information. If you
can only work from existing documentation such as specs, you will have more
problems when the product does not reflect what your sources describe ? you
end up providing an accurate description of what that product was supposed
to have been, or what it was at one time in the planning process.
Let's see, that's not quite vaporware - maybe were-ware.