Technical Authors what we are and what we are not

Unveiling the True Potential of Technical Authors: More Than Just Writers

Don’t let the title of Technical Author fool you. Regardless of your opinion, do not underestimate us. We have the potential to offer unexpected help in more ways than one. Allow me to dispel the myth regarding our identity.

Misconceptions About Technical Authors

Not Just Software Developers

If I had proficiency in BASIC, C/C++, Java, etc., I would earn significantly more as a developer. While I receive calls for API documentation, a skill requiring familiarity with code, my primary focus remains on creating clear and concise technical documents.

Not Project Managers

I am not a project manager certified through Prince2, Agile Scrum, or similar programs. My project management skills are specific to technical documentation, where I manage schedules and meetings with subject matter experts (SMEs) and other stakeholders. My role does not include:

  • Detailed project planning, progress evaluation, risk management, or issue resolution. For these tasks, a full-time project manager is essential.
  • Secretarial duties such as organising colleagues’ schedules or taking minutes. I record my meetings and extract the relevant information for documentation purposes.

Not Departmental Experts

While familiar with the terminology, I am not an expert in every department. I learn on the job, facilitating communication and collaboration through practical verbal and written skills. My goal is to support and encourage achieving organisational goals without making the process daunting.

The True Role of a Technical Author

An External Consultant with a Plan

As an external consultant, I often use the MoSCoW method to categorise initiatives into must-haves, should-haves, could-haves, and will-not-haves (or wishful thinking). This approach ensures a structured and prioritised documentation process.

Documentation Management

Upon joining, I sift through all available documentation to identify gaps and areas for improvement. I manage documents and content using tools like SharePoint and Confluence, ensuring efficient information management for your teams.

Project Management Skills in Context

My project management skills, while not as extensive as those of a certified project manager, include:

  • Designing new templates and improving the structure of existing documents.
  • Documenting processes across several categories and arranging meetings with SMEs.
  • Planning, writing, reviewing, publishing, and maintaining content using tried and tested methods.

Extensive Experience and Resourcefulness

With over 23 years of experience, I possess an extensive library of generic documentation and various templates. This resourcefulness lets me tweak documents to meet your business profile, saving time and money.

ITIL and ITSM Expertise

I have experience producing IT Service Management (ITSM) documents based on ITIL best practices, including:

  • Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement.
  • Delivery and Service Support, Availability, Capacity, and IT Service Continuity Management.
  • Incident, Problem, Change, Release, Configuration Management, and Service Desk documentation.
  • Policy, Process & Standards documentation for ISO27001/9001 compliance, GDPR, PCI/DSS, and security projects.
  • Disaster recovery scenario documentation.
  • Infrastructure documentation to support large-scale networks and recently migrated infrastructures.

Editing and Enhancing Existing Content

I can enhance existing content by adding VISIO drawings, new screenshots, rewording policies, adding narratives, and creating new templates. I am also skilled at ensuring consistency and structure in Word documents.

Tools and Techniques

I keep projects on track using spreadsheets, MS Word, PowerPoint, and VISIO. I also suggest ways to maintain up-to-date and current documentation, treating information as an invaluable asset.

SharePoint and Confluence Management

The cost of Technical and Process documentation
The cost of Technical and Process documentation

If you lack a documentation strategy, I can create a plan tailored to your needs. Proper management includes ensuring documentation is available to all staff, appropriately updated, rewritten, and archived. Ownership, version control, and historical control are critical aspects of effective

documentation management.

Key Benefits of Effective Technical Documentation

Implementing adequate technical documentation can lead to the following:

  • Reduced costs.
  • A more responsive help desk/support system.
  • Better-informed staff and confidence in performing procedures.

By recognising the true potential of Technical Authors, organisations can leverage their skills to achieve greater efficiency, clarity, and overall

success.

Technical Writing | General Data Protection Regulations

GDPR

On the 25th May 2018, the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) came into force.

Companies outside the EU

If your Company actively trades within the EU and stores, processes or shares EU citizens’ data, then GDPR does apply to you.

Compliance and documentation

One of the primary rules is that under GDPR Process activities MUST be documented.

Companies are required to maintain a set of Policy, Process and Plan (PPP) documentation to ensure you have evidence to support your claims should the ICO investigate any complaint or breach of data.

Note that the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) could demand to see the written documents

What do you need to consider?

As a technical writer, with experience writing compliance documentation, what can I tell you?

If you are still struggling to start

My Blogs are clear, writing one document, when there is a substantial list to be completed from scratch to sign off is a lengthy process. Even if your department has documents that can be reused, it will still take a long time. Compliance projects are manually intensive and documenting GDPR will need dedicated resources.

My experience could be necessary to help you write and manage those documents. The sooner you contact me, the sooner we can start the road to compliance.

  • Create a standard template with – Statement, In Scope, Version Control, Change History, Distribution Lists, Roles and Responsibilities
  • All PPPs must adhere to GDPR – include in the document ‘The purpose of the document’, ‘The Scope’ and add a list of the GDPR compliances relevant to the PPP you are writing and explain the WHY the company are complying along with the HOW the company will comply.
  • The documentation must be relevant to your business. Generic documentation outlining a PPP will NOT suffice
  • Complete the documentation – do not start and leave a document incomplete then sign off; an incomplete document could fail a Compliance Audit
  • Maintain the detail – do not half explain a process or policy
  • Structure the documentation to avoid duplicating information over several documents
  • That the documentation may need to be ISO 27001 compliant
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Technical Writing | What is technical writing and why you need it

What is Technical Writing?

Technical writing is a skill and should you hear a Project Manager or Subject Matter Expert say: ‘anyone can write so “why do you need a Technical Writer?” continue reading.

Technical Writing like many jobs has many facets. The fact you see Writer in the job title suggests to the uninitiated that primarily we write. You could not be more wrong! The writing takes only a fraction of the time allocated to the project.

Let’s get to the point

Our time is taken with analysing content and listening to Subject Matter Experts.

Our Writing is concise and to the point. We are not novelists describing a beautiful character down to her laughter lines. A poorly written novel will not hold the attention of a reader; the same goes for poorly written technical documentation. A user wants to read the document and understand say – the function of multiple servers and Operating systems within a significant infrastructure. Know how to follow a process or service within a few sentences. We can create a document from the viewpoint of the reader by listening to the user and offering document(s) based on the best solution.

Technical Writing is – as it explains in the box – technical. We speak to Subject Matter Experts and translate their language into content that a technophobe will understand.

We produce documentation in several formats in such a way, to get the message across to our many audiences. What I have written – you too will be an expert. Give yourself a hand.

Key elements of technical writing

Using a consistent language with regards to terminology.

Creating Glossaries to help readers understand the terminology used within the document.

Formatting document headers with the same font size and tables and drawings labelled the same way are important.

From using Excel spreadsheets, Template creation, document versioning, documentation content and types of material, clear document titles and subjects – working with either a shared drive or a document management system and talking to SMEs every day your average technical author is a ‘rare breed’ indeed.

If you have not already read my post titled “Technical Authors are not easy to find’ we do not attract many candidates.

Technical Writing | Hire a Technical Writer sooner, rather than later

As a Technical Writer with over Twenty Years of experience, I need to address a problem which haunts documentation projects. I aim this at Project Managers who scope such projects as part of a more comprehensive project.

Have you ever planned a project (PCI, GDPR, ISO27001, ITIL, Policy and Process) where documentation is critical? If so, how did it go? Crucially, did the project deliver ALL the documentation? If not – do you know why the plan failed?

First: Did you speak to a Technical Writer for a realistic appraisal of the expected outcomes?

Second: was your budget a few pennies short?

A collective failure of technical / process documentation projects is the lack of knowledge and expertise during the planning and discovery phases. Many project managers do NOT grasp the reality of a documentation project.

If the PM does NOT know the difference between a written process, a documented plan, and the purpose of a policy and its processes, your project could be in trouble.

The planners do not understand the lifecycle of a document, from the initial draft through various reviews and sign-off. The process takes much longer than expected.

How long does it to write a document? My default answer is “I do not know”. Technical Policy and Process documentation, depending on the project (PCI, GDPR, Operations, ITIL), will have many requirements and factors which delay the following stages:

      • the information gathering,
      • the interviewing
      • opinions
      • the writing,
      • review stages,
      • amendments
      • opinions, and
      • sign-off.

The likely reality of writing a 30-page A4 process document containing:

      • VISIOs (3 or more) comprising between 10 to 30 steps
      • Process narratives (3 or more) of between 10 to 30 steps
      • Appendixes (2 or more)

It will take at least 8 – 12 weeks of effort before the review stage. My advice is not to plan such a project without professional help.

Compliance projects such as PCI and GDPR generate a lot of policy and process documentation. If you are starting from scratch, the list of required documents could exceed 60 or more. In timing terms, you are looking at 12/18 months of work. To be safe, let’s say 24 months. If you have partially written documents, DO NOT expect timings to diminish to a few months. If the papers are scattered throughout various drives, the technical author must first attempt to get the documentation into a consistent state. That could take months of work.

Finally, there must be a management agreement to help the PM and TA find the resources to succeed. Any failures will multiply costs.

Hire a Technical Writer

My advice is this: If you have a project that requires documentation, hire a Technical Writer, not a Business Analyst, for advice from the start of the project, NOT when the end date is in sight and when the budget is running out. The TW can highlight issues, risks, and bottlenecks and help you manage expectations within the allocated time assigned to the project.

The Technical writers will need:

    • to assimilate the project
    • Time for training on any tools
    • access to Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

Add in contingencies for illnesses, holidays and unplanned absences, and resignations from the project. They happen.

If the budget and the timelines become fixed (in stone) with multiple documents to complete in a short period, then produce quality rather than quantity.

To ensure quality, rank the documents across the set:

    1. Required
    2. Nice to have
    3. Not important

Or use The MoSCoW method.

    • M – Must have this requirement to meet the business needs
    • S – Should have this requirement if possible, but project success does not rely on it
    • C – Could have this requirement if it affects nothing else on the project
    • W – I would like to have this requirement later, but delivery won’t be this time.

Additional Points

    • Travel: Will the TWs need to travel abroad or nationally?
    • References: Identify any useable archived documentation.
    • Reviews: decide who will review and who will sign off a document
    • Scope: Could there be any changes which will add to or change the size of the project

In summary,

Documentation projects fail due to:

    • poor planning
    • the lack of experience and
    • not allowing enough time to complete the documentation.

In contrast, documentation projects succeed due to:

    • excellent planning
    • understanding of documentation lifecycles
    • allowing enough time to complete the documentation.

Finally: If the project’s success depends on the documentation (Disaster Recovery Plan, PCI/DSS, BCP and ITIL)—why do PMs and SMEs allocate so much of the budget to non-documentation resources?

Technical writing | Now that you have Technical Documentation

So, after the initial shock of discovering what happens when you have no technical documentation, what can you achieve now that you have technical documentation?

1: Have you employed/contracted a Technical Author . . . Great!! If not what’s holding you back . . . remember we bring value

2: If you cannot see your technical author at their desk you’ll no doubt find him/her performing Vulcan mind melds and extracting the necessary technical information from the heads of your development/infrastructure staff (if it looks painful don’t worry, the job is mandatory!)

3:  Start a discussion about what you need and I’m certain your technical author will only be too happy to help?

4: Once you have technical documentation there is no more guesswork as you have plenty of reliable data against which to measure the progress of future projects

5: You can also employ a project manager who can plan ahead because you know everyone who needs it!

6: Documentation is no longer a problem and what you require is what you will get . . . Congratulations!