re: dredging information

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.

- A

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