Joel Byron Barker

A writer with a toolbox chock full of pegs both square and round.

Nailing It

by joel - March 18th, 2009.
Filed under: Joel gets it.

I am just wrapping up a project creating a user manual for an audio device. It was a small-scale technical writing project that is quite easy to turn around.
This morning, I just want to crow to the fact that I got the timeline right, the budget right, and all the stakeholders are really pleased with the product. Trifecta!

Getting a writing project on time, on budget and up to spec is not as easy as it seems.  There are a lot of ways that a writing project can go wrong.  I believe that a good portion of those problems occur in the initial meeting to launch the project.  We can prevent projects from derailing by planning well early in the process.  I try to identify any potential problems during my first engagements with a client.

Here are three keys to a successful project:

  • Identify stakeholders and their roles. Who is a technical reviewer?  Who is a content reviewer?  Who provides final sign off?  I can be pretty blunt with customers that increasing the number of stakeholders can add days to a project.   Participants need to know their roles and responsibilities early on so that they are not taken by surprise.
  • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Establish realistic timelines.  This is easy to write, but so often we are tempted to pitch an agressive time table or an idealized plan for the future when we are in a meeting trying to get the project launched.  Sometimes we have short timelines, but that does not change the facts on the ground.  Let’s deal with a timeline that is doable for everyone.
  • Guide the review process. Not everyone is a specialist in documentation.  I find that even when I am the contractor, it is best for me to set up the process for reviews.  Tell people how to use the Microsoft Word “Track Changes” feature.  Be clear about who owns the current version of the document.  Make it clear when reviews need to be completed and keep in contact with reviewers.

It felt downright old-fashioned to write for print — well, for a PDF published to a CD, actually.  I hope to get more of these opportunities down the road.

1 Response to Nailing It

  1. Joel – just a short note from your w-site to say I think we’ll get on well project-wise. I like directness, clarity, and designing for results.