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.

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