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.

Like a Good Gardener, Help an Enterprise Keep Itself Current

Posted on October 18, 2016
Filed Under Uncategorized | Leave a Comment

25654050293_a6ac9c67a9_cHere’s a great analogy for technical writers from the “Stories From the Software Salt Mines” blog. Sure, you can keep adding features (in the form of text and photos) to whatever technical content you’ve been developing for months, or years.

But if you haven’t been conscious of keeping it all fresh and organized appropriately, if you’ve just been adding on…and on, watch out. Or if you’ve been describing an aging system as though it’s still new, that could be a double whammy.

“Software as a garden: to be able to grow more software, to be able to grow revenue with it,” the blog writer notes, “you have to keep the soil fertile and give the roots room. The problem is, gardening projects are a hard sell. These are things like refactoring older parts of the code that no longer serve efficiently, or upgrading or replacing outdated parts of the architecture, or redesigning subsystems that work fine today but can’t adapt to things the company wants to do in the future. When you tell executives you need to do these things, what they hear is that they can’t have new features while you do it. New features fuel growing companies.”

In short, you need to be observant, that is, current, as you write. If the setting you’ve been active in has been aging (and what settings haven’t?), have you kept it current in your own awareness and thoughts, and pointed out to its owners what you’ve been observing?

If you’re simply chronicling an aging, though originally awesome, system, watch out! If you don’t “tend your garden,” contribute to keeping it current, sooner or later it will stop producing. And nobody should be surprised at that.

Yet, notes the writer in the Software Salt Mines: “It was much the same story: the company had focused entirely on rapid new-feature delivery and not enough on ongoing design and architecture. After a decade, their soil had gone infertile and the code had become tangled. Nothing new would grow.”

A good gardener helps maintain the conditions for growth. So does a good technical writer. – Doug Bedell

We’re Leaders All, And Need to Think That Way

Posted on October 10, 2016
Filed Under Business, Communication | Leave a Comment

Technical writers are likely to picture themselves as contributing from “behind the scenes,” without much sense that they have a leadership role in the organization they’re serving. But principles of good leadership and professional awareness need to be on everyone’s mind these days, no matter how much of a leadership back-bencher we may fancy ourselves. We’re all filling big shoes.

Thus we find the Heroic Technical Writing blog musing on “Five Principles of Good Leadership,” an appropriate focus indeed. They are: A sense of mission, A sense of appreciation, An ability to inspire hard work, A willingness to respect employee expertise and A willingness to back up their team.

There’s also, of course, A sense of being trustworthy, of having integrity and keeping calm. We’d add that one.

Living up to all these attributes makes one, in fact, a leader too, no longer a backbencher. It may be quiet, unassertive leadership, but it’s way-showing nonetheless.

“Occasionally,” notes Bart Leahy, proprietor of Heroic Technical Writing, “I’ve encountered individuals who ask me to edit or rewrite their work and then, when I do, they push back– either against my specific wording or my advice on how to approach a particular communication challenge. This can be particularly vexing when the leader in question specifically confesses ignorance about a subject.

“Repeated often enough,” Leahy adds, “this behavior eventually creates reluctance to offer input or advice.”

That’s truly so. Technical writers may not be in the forefront of an organization, but the best ones are formative elements in an organization nonetheless. They know creative from crass, and demonstrate the crucial difference by being true to their craft and the best interests of the organization they’re serving. Trust will ultimately be lost, but it won’t be trust in the technical writer (if he sticks around long enough).

A good organization is a set of worthy aspirations maintained under pressure. Technical writers serving such an organization can sense its heading perhaps before the executive helmsman. Tech writers aren’t just drafting procedures, they’re taking the best aim they know on an organization’s proficiency and continued success.

“All of these behaviors engender a sense of trust,” Leahy notes in closing. “If a leader loses their team’s trust, they can also expect to lose all the rest of the attributes described above. But given an environment of vision, sincere appreciation, shared work, mutual respect, and trust, leaders can create high-performing teams who will want to work with that leader again and again.”

And their technical writers can tell them as well as anyone how they’re doing. – Doug Bedell

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