After many years of blogging, and consistent with my desire to move toward retirement, we have ended the Insights blog. Thanks to Doug Bedell for his years of blog support.

Economics Without Weeds

Posted on March 29, 2016
Filed Under Business, Technology | Leave a Comment

25910283602_3de10d8e5f_b We’re penning this commentary on a post by Jim Grey (on his Stories from the Software Salt Mines blog) not only because we like the graphic (left) that runs with it, but because it gives the lie to the notion that economics are nearly everything in business. Creativity, focus and flow count for a lot too.

Jim’s noting, and complaining, that Silicon Valley tech companies appear to be moving their tech support departments to middle America because they can pay support techs less there. Let the support folks answer phone queries from the boondocks, rather than the coasts, is what it amounts to. Yet that’s a profoundly mistaken view if a company’s more creative people are on the coasts. If creatives aren’t housed with the support people, we’d counsel, watch out!

Over time, a tech company might well be denying itself insights that could make it’s products better and more customer-focused, because they’re not being made in a system in which front-line customer/technical feedback is being readily heard. A system implies activity centers in a configuration that readily and productively support each other.

“Support,” Jim Grey writes, “really can be a good place to grow talent for other teams because techs know the products and, more importantly, how users actually work with and experience them.”

Who’d a thunk? That’s what happens when support people spend all the time they typically do with confused and possibly disgruntled users. Why deny a firm’s “creative” people the insights they garner or have them coming in secondhand, from the heartland to the coast?

Stupid, stupid. “Here in the Midwest, where cost of living is generally low,” Jim observes, “the startup, small, and medium-sized companies where I’ve worked don’t outsource customer service. Those workers are already plentiful and inexpensive. And so support is always down the hall or on the next floor. Developers and testers become friends with many of the support techs.”

So why doesn’t Silicon Valley see the benefit in having everybody together, too? Can it be economics alone – if so, it’s a false sense of economics. Or is there something of a caste system at work as well – “creatives” and everybody else. If so, and again, that’s simply stupid.

Take down the “Road Ends” sign in the photo and yank out those weeds. We’re all in this together, designers and enablers alike. That’s the best kind of economics. Amen. – Doug Bedell

Getting ‘Out There’ Matters Greatly

Posted on March 11, 2016
Filed Under Technology, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment

On his ‘I’d Rather Be Writing’ blog, Tom Johnson in California’s San Francisco Bay area takes the occasion of moving to a new job to reflect on what he was pleased with, and not so pleased with, on his old one. His reflections reveal a conscientious, fully engaged technical writing style, although not a perfect one – on his old job, anyway.

Tom’s first priority, a key resolve, seems to be getting out to where the work is done, to experience what’s happening before he prescribes procedures to keep it happening.

“Understanding the scrum process and how it was implemented,” Tom notes, “allowed me to quickly understand what teams were working on and what documentation needed to be written or updated, and when.”

Like a street-side reporter, you have to be on the street, rather than at your keyboard, to experience what’s actually happening before you start to describe it for others. There’s nothing like “being there” as a first step.

“I like being a part of engineering teams,” Tom notes, “embedded right there alongside product managers, quality assurance engineers, and developers. I built a strong sense of trust and rapport with the teams. I don’t like it when writers are grouped in their own space and interact mostly with each other, separated from the engineers.”

In getting to know the engineers he’s writing for, Tom is almost automatically in closer touch with them – they’re colleagues, not clients in their own “spaces”.

“I learned,” Tom confides, “that you should never send blanket emails to the entire team asking for reviews of massive amounts of documentation, because it will never happen.”

His goals for next time include trusting nothing, testing everything; keeping documentation systems as simple as possible and “diving deep into content, not doc tools.”

This all gets down to becoming, and remaining, authentic in your approach to technical writing. It may seem initially comfortable to be sitting at a wide display with a slick keyboard, but, over time, it’s the content, more than the technique that matters. And you get that from your colleagues. After all, they’re doing the work you’re describing. – Doug Bedell

Bless Her, Sarah’s All For Sharing

Posted on March 6, 2016
Filed Under Technology, The Writing Life | Leave a Comment

Cheers to Sarah Maddox for taking us (virtually) to the TCWorld India 2016 conference held recently in Bangalore. “It’s been an amazing, rewarding experience,” Sarah, writer of the Ffeathers technical writing and fiction (there’s a combination) blog, notes. “Here are some of my impressions, and a roundup of the posts I’ve written about the sessions I attended.”

tcworld-dance-partyWhat follows from Sarah, who’s from Sydney, Australia, is the next best thing to being at the conference, photos of the event but more to the point, her notes on the sessions she attended. These include topics like “The Future *I* Technical Communication”, which was Sarah’s keynote to the meeting, with 71 slides.

There’s easily a week’s material on technical writing here, all from an energetic, community-minded woman who enjoys sharing her insights, big time. Thanks Sarah!

The photo, of a dance party at the conference, shows that everybody had a great time learning! – Doug Bedell

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