Learn from your topics and collaborate

We tech writers can learn from our chunks of content: What makes a topic successful can also make us writers successful! I had this idea while reading one of my favorite management blogs, Jurgen Appelo’s noop.nl.

In a recent post, Jurgen talks about what turns a bunch people into a team: It’s a shared purpose and a common identification as an entity. (Duh, so far… – But here comes…) This, Jurgen says, is also called “chunking”.

The chunking principle

“That’s like chunked topics in topic-based authoring,” I thought immediately and started to sort out more parallels:

  • A team is self-contained and has an identifiable purpose that distinguishes it from other team, just as each topic does. (Though we humans can belong to several teams consecutively or at the same time, so we can lead more interesting lives than our topics…)
  • Teams, such as tech writers, create context by connecting to other related teams, such as trainers, testers, interface designers, information architects, content strategists, etc., just as topics link to related topics.
  • “Teams don’t operate well when people don’t know what the teams are, and who they can rely on,” Jurgen says. Your collection of topics won’t play nicely, either, if it’s not clear what the other topics are and whether readers and writers can rely on them.

Jurgen goes on to emphasize boundary management of teams that helps to ensure that teams can work well and efficiently. If you’re at all interested in team management, check out his post – and his blog as a whole.

Collaborate like topics

I think there’s a lesson for tech writers here beyond team management: How successful you’ll be in your work as a tech writer depends on how well you define your job’s purpose and communicate it to others:

  • Be clear in what you need from product managers, from developers, from subject-matter experts and when and how you need it.
  • Be clear in what you can offer to training (content for training materials), to product management (fact checking and editing of brochures), to testing (written use cases).

In short: Do like your topics and collaborate! Given that we tech writers are communicators by trade, we shouldn’t find it too difficult to speak out on our own behalf. 🙂

Your turn

How important is it to your success that you collaborate efficiently with other teams? Do they understand what you do and how you work? Please leave a comment.

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Managing: Instruction vs. communication

I’ve found an enlightening opposition in Jurgen Appelo’s presentation “The Dolt’s Guide to Self-Organization“, slides 54-55:

Managing a lifeless system is all about instruction.
Managing a living system is all about communication.

What struck me was that we tech writers often consider task-based instructions in documentation already better than feature-based system description.

But seen from a managing perspective, Jurgen reminded me once again that instructions are at best an intermediary step on the way to a good user experience.