Tuesday, March 30, 2010

competing trends?

A former co-worker tweeted this afternoon that Inc magazine did their article on teleworking without going into the office. That got me thinking. I've noticed recently that the media, both mainstream and the twitter/blog/social-sphere, have been paying way more attention to the "virtual office, distributed team, remote work, no more commute" trend than they have been to the trend toward Agile processes. Actually, I'd been thinking about it a bit since I heard a story on NPR a couple of weeks ago about telecommuting helping with work-life balance. When I looked up that article, I found tons of others. That confirmed my impression that this is a popular topic with the media.

On the other hand, I have not heard anything about Agile and Scrum (or is it SCRUM). Indeed a search for "agile scrum" on the NPR web site brought up nothing remotely related to software development. Yet Agile Scrum XP seems to be a much bigger trend in the actual software development world. Agile Scrum processes supposedly require physical co-location of all team members and daily face to face standup meetings. At one of my previous jobs it was absolutely forbidden to phone in to the daily standup (neither blizzard nor flood nor sick child was sufficient to merit using a telephone -- team members would simply notify the team they were not coming in). To reinforce this, the scrum area had no phone. The tech writer's role in an Agile team depends heavily on overhearing what the developers are talking about. You can't eavesdrop remotely. Additionally, we were working with another development team in China, who had their own scrum. Coordination was difficult.

I said "supposedly" above because I recently heard a talk by Julie LeMoine at Ignite Boston titled Virtual Work Spaces and Teams, which dealt with using avatars in Second Life to support distributed Agile teams. That might have helped with the China issue described above. I'm still not sure it would've helped with the eavesdropping issue though. I did ask about that afterwards, but did not have enough of a coherent discussion to resolve it.

So are these competing trends? It seems like Agile processes and telecommuting/work-life balance are mutually exclusive. Why aren't the trend-watchers noticing this and commenting on it?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Achieving Technical Writing Excellence

While searching for some parts to upgrade an old Mac G4 for my dendrologist friends, I came across the iFixit site. Although I didn't find the 3.5" IDE/ATA 120 Gb internal hard drive I need, I discovered a treasure trove of information for DIY troubleshooting and repair. The procedures are clear and well written gems of technical communication and the folks at iFixit are proud of it. The sidebar of the page I was looking at had a link to their latest blog post: Achieving Technical Writing Excellence.

My take-away from the blog post is that even in our brave new world of technical writing as type-driven topic-based content management, writers are achieving excellence using the oldest tech writing maxim in the book: writing for the reader. It was thrilling to read these words:
"You always have to be conscious of your audience, for they are the ones who will be gaining the most from your words. Write for them — not yourself."

Technical writing excellence is not about clever use of tools. It's about communicating the information that the user needs. It's about the user. It always will be.