Monthly Archives: March 2016

Silo Busting

Everyone knows that technical writers do documentation. If you need a user manual, marketing collateral, or a better website, you call a tech writer. However technical writers provide another service that is less well-understood or appreciated.

Every business with more than one person has organizational silos: business groups that compartmentalize functions and information. People often communicate fairly well within their silo, but communication is harder between silos. Different silos often have different jargons, ideas, and priorities.

This is an efficient model, most of the time, but it can lead to serious disconnects.

The technical writer is one of the few people on the project who has to understand almost every aspect of it. We can’t afford to take anything for granted, so we often ask questions that no one ever bothered to ask before.

Every technical writer has had this meeting:

Tech Writer: So how does this feature work?
Bob from Hardware: Well, it works like this….
Ted from Software: Wait a minute. It’s not like that at all!

Different silos sometimes have radically different views of a project, and may address the same problem in different ways. If these differences aren’t caught and reconciled, they may hang up the project at the most inopportune time, such as during rollout or worse, after the product is in users’ hands and tech support is giving them incorrect information.

The solution is to bring a technical writer on-board as early as possible. Simply by documenting the project, the writer acts as a filter to spot discrepancies between silos and bring them to the attention of people who can fix them early.

Scott’s Laws of Consulting

I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, and over time I’ve developed a few thoughts on consulting and on work in general. I’m using this post as a general place to list what I think of as Scott’s Laws of Consulting.

Scott’s First Law: Work is a means by which you convert your life into money. This is the most basic rule of the workplace, no matter what work you do. When you do a job, you are setting a value on your time, and your time is your life. This principle is the basis of all the others.

Scott’s Second Law: Your customer is the person who gives you money. Many people lose sight of this. Your customer is the person or organization whose interests you serve with your work. They may or may not be your friends, and that doesn’t matter. They are purchasing your efforts on their behalf, and ethically you are obliged to work for their benefit. People sometimes get confused, thinking that their customers are the people who use the goods they make, the food they serve, or the services they provide. Some contractors even treat their co-workers as customers. Those people are not your customers. Your customer is the person who gives you money.

Scott’s Third Law: Find a way to get paid for something you would do for free. This, in my opinion, is the best way to work. It’s why I do what I do. Writing and research are actively fun for me, and I know they aren’t for most people. So I find satisfaction in doing that work, and getting paid means that I don’t have to do something that I like less.