The case for Minimum Viable Documentation

I attended the TCCamp conference…er…unconference last weekend. Short review: I enjoyed it (again!). I attended Tom Johnson’s great intro to API documentation, I talked to some interesting people, and I got some practical advice during the three discussion sessions.

And I won an iPad Air 2 (thanks to XMetaL/JustSystems), which is FREAKIN’ AWESOME.

But I want to focus on one topic that came up during the “Technical Communication in Agile” discussion: the concept of Minimum Viable Documentation.

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(Not my) predictions for 2015

It’s the time of year for technical communication industry predictions, but that’s not my speciality. I don’t have my finger on the pulse of techcomm; in fact, I’ve been feeling like I’m in an isolated backwater. When people learn that I’m using ZenDesk for documentation they think that I’m either very brave or very masochistic.

As Luke Skywalker would have told me, “Well, if there’s a bright center to the [technical communications] universe, you’re on the planet that it’s farthest from.”

[Speaking of, what sort of help system would you write for a lightsaber? “Point shiny end away from face and good luck”?]

Getting back on target…

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Fun with videos

I recently received spam email…wait, is “spam email” redundant? I’ve gotta ask Marcia Riefer Johnston about that one! Anyway, the spam was yet another “buy this stock now!” scam, which is all I seem to get lately. I don’t buy and sell stock, so I’m hardly the target market. I assume the target market are day traders who exist in a haze of constant sleep deprivation who have lost all higher cognitive functions and are unable to distinguish good advice from bad. Seems like a very niche market, but the spammers are certainly doing their best to reach it.

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Doing the needful

Doing the needful” is an Indian English expression that I picked up from former coworkers. I’m currently managing a training development project, and that’s leaving little time to work on the product documentation. So I’m focusing on what I earlier called “moving the needle”; or in other words, figuring out what among the tasks that I’m responsible for is most in need of doing.

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Working well with others

A big part of a technical communicator’s job is research. The information we use to create content comes from a wide variety of sources: technical specs, product research documents, business proposals, white papers, internal wikis, customer support tickets…

And even from actual people. There’s lot of good info locked away in our coworkers’ heads. Getting to that info isn’t always easy, but I’m honestly surprised how often one question comes up both in interviews and in discussions with other tech writers: “How do you work with engineers?”

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Quick thoughts on useful skills for technical communicators

A question that comes up regularly on Linked in forums is “What are the most important skills for a technical communicator to have?” I used to have a quick answer for that, but I realize it was based on how I learned to technical writing. But now many people in techcomm won’t be using a complex desktop publishing program to write manuals designed for print. They won’t be relying on the work of editors, illustrators, and a production team.

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The diversification, not death, of technical writing

It’s been a month of organizational changes at work. Actually, just a particularly chaotic month, after about 5-6 months of changes. Which is stressful in general, and I’m finding it also saps my will to blog, and leaves me with few new things to blog about. The “document the product” part of my job has taken a distant third place to customer support and establishing a training program.

It also means that I have to make decisions about what I want to do. And, again, stop being a damn hero and trying to do everything every day. I want to be a “working manager”: Leading a team, but also doing a bit of day-to-day work (content development, ideally, but that could also include customer support). And although it’s different from when I started as a tech writer, it seems like the working manager is now the norm.

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Building a team

I’ve been at my current company for a year and a half, and my role is a mix of technical communications and customer support (which is really technical communication with a specific person instead of a group of current customers and prospective customers).

As my company is growing and taking on more customers, I need to build a team. I’m figuring out what that team will look like, and what sort of skills and personalities I need to fill those roles.

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Enough with the heroics

My boss keeps telling me that the great thing about startups is that everyone wants to do everything. And the worst thing about startups is that everyone tries to do everything.

I should have listened more closely. Heroic efforts are good sometimes. But you can’t base realist plans on that. If you do, it’ll bite you in the ass. That’s what happened to me.

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