A case study.
After a few phone call discussions, the hiring manager wants to meet with me to discuss their company's documentation. We meet at 10 AM tomorrow.
Got problems like these?
The hiring manager tells me about their new "mobile server" that somehow enhances communication with wireless devices, such as cellular phones, pagers, and mobile computers.
A writer who has been there for several months has recently quit. Soon, he invites two remaining writers in to talk to me. They tell me more about the mobile server, and the problems they're having in trying to develop documentation.
The bottom line: The company has deficient or non-existing documentation and they're scheduled to release the new product in the next few months.
The programmers are "too busy" to talk to writers and the stuff the programmers write is not human-readable. Worse, the programmers are uncooperative with tech writers. After months of struggle, the writers have great reasons but few results.
I ask many questions. I get answers that tell me they haven't even defined terms. I ask several times, "What exactly is a mobile server." They give confusing and conflicting answers. (All this time, I imagine some server-hardware mounted on a truck traveling around the countryside. What for, I wonder.)
I offer some ideas, and approaches I would take if they want me to take part. I've seen these problems scores of times.
After some probing, I discover that the "mobile server" is a software only product. It supports communication between mobile devices (cell phones, pagers, and mobile computers) and with the Internet. Aha, things are beginning to make sense!
After a couple of hours, the hiring manager asks whether I can to start immediately. (Yes.)
First thing, I must develop some official documentation plans.
... More Problems
On Day One, I discover that the previous writer had saved hundreds of disorganized files that seem to be merely copies of stuff on their Intranet. Some files are scraps of previous attempts and ancient ideas. The trash file contains hundreds of files. Stacks of documents lie around in cabinets and drawers in complete disarray.
I find practically nothing useful after a few days of archaeological digging. I write up my findings for the hiring manager. After reviewing my report, he encourages me to start afresh (yes!).
This is the first project I've ever inherited where all previous work was such a mess it must be trashed.
Tailored Solutions for Management
I use my programming experience, high-tech background, and years of working with software developers to advantage in working with the defiant programmers. We begin to make progress.
I meet often with the lead programmer in the conference room to develop software flowcharts. We develop detailed flowcharts on a huge whiteboard with a built-in printer, which is WAY handy. I record his comments so I can create human-readable prose for the manuals.
Occasionally, someone asks me to review technical proposals and marketing brochures.
The company is inefficiently managed. It operates mainly on tribal knowledge and unconfirmed rumors. I take the initiative to design and present an 8-week course (2 hours/wk). I call the course "Leadership & Management Training."
The course includes: principles of delegation, personal objective development guidelines, principles of position interface, principles of regulating, contractual commitment system, standards development guidelines, benchmark development guidelines, principles of management for non-management personnel. Click to download Leadership & Management Training brochure. (PDF To download, right-click link & choose "Save Target As")
I also conduct many Thoughtstorm® sessions with employees from several departments, including marketing, operations, and finance. These meetings are both fun and productive, leaving everyone's head spinning with new ideas and points of view. (Listen to the Thoughtstorm® introduction below.)
(To find out how to add audio to your site click here.)
Tailored Documentation for Customers & Users
Over several months, I work with other writers, programmers, marketing-types, and management to accomplish the following documentation:
Designed and developed SDK (Software Development Kit) Reference Manual with configuration and administration, configuration overview, configuration usage, configuration reference, apache-ssl gateway documentation, configuration and administration for the mobile server. Manual includes configuration file loading, configuration file sets, basic server configuration, debugging and reporters, thread pools, transports, etc.
Developed (Java) System Flowcharts showing transports, event manager, threadpools, translators, command processors, authentication, session manager, request type translator, command translators, command processors, authentication manager, session manager, querymap processor, and much more.
Developed Service Developer's Guide with detailed how-to instructions for the following: designing a service, downloading, installing, and running the PhoneDial Service. How to create the PhoneDial Service from Basic Components.
Developed Short Message Service (SMS) Transport documentation. For a relatively simple messaging service, many elements must be considered when developing the mobile server to handle SMS. Provided necessary background to understand the current implementation and to implement future upgrades. Short Message Service (SMS) is a globally accepted wireless service that transmits alphanumeric messages between mobile subscribers and electronic mail, paging, and voice-mail systems, etc.
Developed Email Transport Document covering four implementations of email transports: POP3 (receive), SMTP (receive), SMTP (send), and Log (send)
Designed and conducted Leadership & Management Workshops (included 100 pages of course materials). Click to download Leadership & Management Training brochure. (PDF To download, right-click link & choose "Save Target As")
Oh yes, we all had a great time! M.H.
Questions? Comments? Send me an email.
Mike Hayden, Principal/Consultant
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Senior Management Services
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(c) 2005 Mike Hayden