Thoughtful Management of the Technical Documentation Tasks

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Thoughtful Management of the Technical Documentation Tasks

Every project leader knows that most projects are wrought with unexpected twists and turns. Unexpected “fires” that often catch the most experienced manager unprepared and can keep the most ambitious manager from accomplishing his daily planned tasks. Since many of our reader’s projects have grouped the technical documentation and development tasks under the same manager, we are offering a few ideas to these overworked managers that may help ease the burden.

It has been our experience that the three most important considerations in the success of any technical documentation project are (1) Technical Content (2) On-Time Delivery and (3) Controlled Spending. Many new projects burn up an alarming number of hours just getting organized. By implementing some basic steps BEFORE the start of the documentation effort, you can better control your project’s loss of start-up hours as well as increase your own visibility as the project’s manager. Here are 10 things to consider when organizing and structuring a medium or large scale documentation project.

  1. Determine how much money you have been given to do the job. Break out all contract expenses such as writers, editors, illustrators, production, consultants, supplies, etc.
  2. Make sure the effort that was originally quoted is still what the customer wants. Verify that no customer change requests are waiting unopened in your boss’s IN box.
  3. Calculate the number of actual work hours available by dividing the contract $$ (contract $ minus all other riders) by each tech writer’s costing rate. Estimate each person’s hours over the phases of the effort.
  4. Establish what documents must be created during the available hours. Then break down each document (including all versions) to an estimated number of hours per page (hrs/page) and cost per page ($$/page). Once this is done, take an honest look at whether these figures are realizable.
  5. Write a memo to management detailing your understanding of the documentation task(s) and the amount of time you are allocating to each sub-task. Ask for your manager’s concurrence in writing. Verify that everyone in management understands the task YOU are to perform and is in agreement with the task and quoted dollars.
  6. Set up a Spending vs. Milestone chart (plan) with ALL important milestones. The slope of this curve will allow you to readily monitor the burn rate of hours so you don’t overspend. The chart will also alert you and your boss early on when spending is exceeding the burn rate.
  7. Set up a unique charge number for your documentation task(s) so you can track who is spending hours on each task. Publish a list of names that are authorized to charge time against your project’s charge number(s). Establish who has authority over individual tasks and who can authorize new people to charge to the task.
  8. Maintain accountability by making everyone directly responsible for their assigned tasks and milestones. Generate a written task statement for each team member. Set time aside to discuss their task with them. If they understand your expectations and agree that their task can be completed in the allotted time, have them initial the task statement.
  9. Set up a method of receiving spending information from the accounting department so you can quickly correct any incorrect or invalid charges. Request any project-related accounting reports weekly (or daily if available). Backcharge any unauthorized use of your charge numbers before those dollars become lost or forgotten.
  10. Create charts for each member of your team that map each milestone against hours spent and accompany the charts with a task statement. Have the publications department make each chart visually appealing and large enough to be read from about 10 feet away. Post the milestone chart in your office or in a conference room so it can be read by all who pass by. NOTE: Peer visibility is a great incentive for workers to meet their milestones and keep spending down.

Suggest to each tech writer that they update their own chart each Friday afternoon. (This leaves no doubt in management’s mind who is doing the job and who is not. It is easy to update your project curve if all employees are updating theirs.)

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