Earlier this week, I was asked my opinion on whether a Documentation Manager was needed when the individual Technical Authors are embedded into Agile project teams.
My response was that a Documentation Manager mainly provides people management, project management, process management and content management. If a Technical Author is a member of a software project team, then that team’s Project Manager is probably providing the people management and the project management to the writer.
That leaves the need for someone to manage the processes and manage the content. I suggested managing the content could be done by someone with the role of Editor (or “Content Wrangler”). They might also look after the processes, or they could have another writer take on that responsibility.
It’s then a decision as to whether the organisation sees these roles as senior to the technical writing positions, or as a specialism and consequently on the same job grade.
It does leave the management of the writers’ career progression falling through the cracks, unfortunately.
Below is an interview between Ellis Pratt of Cherryleaf and Diana Logan, Documentation Manager at Sage Technologies. In the interview, we discuss Sage Technologies’ new platform for assisting users, the “Sage Ecosystem”, and how user documentation is developed by Diana’s team.
Earlier in the year, we asked a number of people in the technical writing community for their thoughts on what should be included in a training programme for managers of documentation teams. We received a lot of great ideas and ended up with a list of over 60 potential topics.
We’ve initiated the development of some training modules, but we’ve been wrestling with the issue of how this content should be best delivered. The questions we’ve been asking are not unique to ourselves, so we thought it might be useful to outline some the challenges we’ve been facing.
Should the way people consume information and learn via the Internet today affect the way we deliver our content?
Should we pay attention to the arguments of Michael Wesch (students of today learn differently from their predecessors) and Sir Ken Robinson (don’t kill creativity)?
How will new Web technologies, such as Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web, affect learning in the future?
Our training courses are in a niche market, for people with limited budget, and there are many new ways of delivering information emerging at the moment. So how do we avoid spending time and effort developing training modules that become obsolete in a short space of time?
Where should the topics fit within the curriculum?
We’ve found some topics fall into more than one area. For example, Web Analytics could be part of a Project Management (post project evaluation) and part of a Web technologies track. Wikis could fall under authoring tools, Web technologies and project management tracks.
How important is the ability to discuss ideas?
The greatest intellectual and scientific accomplishments in history have normally come about from where people have been able to:
Question and debate their ideas with others; and
Draw upon ideas from many different subjects.
The 18th Century Scottish Enlightenment (which laid down the mental foundations for the modern world) emerged from clubs and associations dotted around Edinburgh. What’s more, their discussions ranged ranged from broad intellectual and economic topics to the specifically scientific – again, topics fell into more than one subject area.
The early 20th Century industrialists in America used to meet in Mastermind groups to share and debate ideas and experiences.
We’re experiencing a similar period of rapid change today.
These considerations have lead us to the following conclusions:
Learning how to manage documentation doesn’t finish at the end of a course - it’s a lifelong process. So we’re now approaching this programme from the view of career development.
Topics shouldn’t be pigeonholed into a single narrow track.
There are benefits to people learning through exploration and discussion with their peers.
It’s often useful to look at the economic and technological pressures in other industries, to see if the trends emerging there are relevant to the technical communications/publications sector. In recent Blogs, we’ve covered the issues emerging in education, but the telecommunications industry might also provide some useful insights.
Widespread deployment of a method of communicating, long cultural embedment, extreme ease of use and very low barriers to usage, means it’s not going away in a big way, at any time least soon.
We are seeing software offer a new stronger “Relationships” between people. Distribution is relatively zero-cost and it achieves unprecedented scale.
He’s talking about telephony and Skype, but couldn’t that also be true for paper and Web-based online Help?
Dryburgh sees a new phase emerging that will have deeper impact yet. He said:
“Phase two is built around an economic model that puts human time and attention at a premium. It’s the opposite of what we experience today with telephony, where human time and attention is wasted.”
“Phase two is about intention-based economics. It’s focused on fulfilling intentions and desires … I’m not saying we need to become psychologists and anthropologists. But what we need to build for is access to ever more personal information, i.e. about the human behind the endpoint. Privacy does not exist looking long-term. Ever more personal information is the new currency, which underlies intention-based economics, and people will increasingly trade it for free access to services. “
“If any of this seems abstract at the moment, think about what makes Google money, Ad Words. Google provides search free to the consumer in order to gain eyeballs (mass attention) and takes the search parameter to try and deduce intention. It then sells that attention and intention data upstream to advertisers.”
Could this also happen in the technical documentation arena? Would seeing technical documentation in the context of new economic ideas, such as intention-based economics and the economics of attention, affect how and what was created? Would it change the nature of conversations with management and marketing?
We hosted the first of our peer-group mentoring meetings on Tuesday, and I pleased to say the event went as well as we could have expected. We’ve attended and hosted sessions for other entrepreneurs, but this was our first experience of running such an event for documentation managers. The interactions and the nature of the outcomes were the same as we’ve seen before.
The feedback from the participants has been positive too:
The whole afternoon was thoroughly enjoyable as well as informative. This is a unique forum for sharing experience and ideas. It’s the only forum where we can discuss management issues specific to our profession.
Firstly, thank you so much for setting up the meeting – your efforts, and Ginny’s, are very much appreciated.
As feedback, I offer my thoughts and comments:
For the first session, I thought the topic was quite challenging. Thanks to your skilled moderation and guidance, and the terrific participation of everyone, some really significant and valuable perspectives were tabled.
It may surprise you that, although I am removed from the situation that was discussed, I found it surprisingly beneficial and therapeutic to hear what everyone had to say.
Hearing the wisdom and thoughts of yourself and fellow communicators cannot be overvalued. The effect of having a safe container and the elimination of any sense of isolation enabled healthy and open discussion and the resulting stream of delving questions were very thought-provoking.
The venue was ideal, too.
Heartfelt thanks and congratulations on an excellent idea executed with skill. Please consider this a great success!
I look forward to the next meeting.
Thanks again and best regards,
Thank you for organising the Peer Group Meeting yesterday. I would definitely recommend these meetings to Documentation Managers/Leaders. As advertised it provided a safe forum for the subject to share their issues and receive recommendations and suggestions from a diverse group of peers.
“Many thanks to Cherryleaf for setting up this Documentation Peers Group. It is a wonderful opportunity to discuss professional ideas and issues amongst a group of like-minded individuals!”
It was great to meet other documentation professionals and to discuss a real issue facing the industry. Much more fun that arguing about full stops in bulleted lists.
We are considering setting up additional Mastermind groups – in the UK and mainland Europe – so contact us if this would be of interest to you.
Potentially these may also expand to Melbourne in Australia and Raleigh-Durham NC in the USA – again, contact us if this would be of interest to you.
The first Documentation Managers/Leaders mentoring meeting date has now been set: for the afternoon of Tuesday 26th May 2009.
The afternoon is dedicated to providing a safe forum where documentation managers can share the issues they face and get their challenging questions answered – not just by an expert but by people who’ve faced similar challenges to your own. It’s a process of learning and developing skills through the medium of shared experience: something from “real-life” and valuable to the recipient.
We’ve had someone step forward with a problem they’d like to discuss. It relates to managing off-site/overseas authors and dealing with a headcount reduction/headcount cull.
The meeting will be held in Russell Square, London. We’re making a nominal charge to cover charge for teas, coffees and biscuits. Cherryleaf is picking up the tab for the room hire. The group size is limited to 16 particpants (plus the chairman).