Death by a thousand cuts

Death by a thousand cuts

on Feb 11, 10 • by Helen Abbott • with No Comments

As a manager of a small tech writing team in an agile environment (are there any large tech writing teams left out there?), it’s easy to lose myself in how-the-heck-can-we-keep-up-with-myriad-coders-frantically-coding thinking. So when my manager scheduled a meeting to ask what innovations my team has planned for...

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As a manager of a small tech writing team in an agile environment (are there any large tech writing teams left out there?), it’s easy to lose myself in how-the-heck-can-we-keep-up-with-myriad-coders-frantically-coding thinking.

So when my manager scheduled a meeting to ask what innovations my team has planned for the next release or two, I thought of a few choice responses, such as “Um… how about documenting the new features in time for release? Is that innovative enough for ya?” and “Innovate THIS.”

Eventually I calmed down, since he’s the boss, and I have a mortgage.

I looked at the presentation I’d given after our last research period, that oh-so-short breathing time between releases. I reviewed the precious feedback we’ve gotten from a few customers and thought hard about it. I felt a bit better when I realized several of the goals we’d set for ourselves were already underway.

I dutifully wrote up a wiki page (because I can’t think without writing) that summarized a bunch of initiatives under each of our themes: process, community, quality, coverage, usability, and media. And I decided whether they’d fit into this release or the next. And I sent it off to my manager before our meeting.

He said OK, but where does all this get us?

He called my list depressing. Death by a thousand cuts.

He told me that to be successful, you need to put 80% of your time or money into one thing.

Spend 80% of your time on One Thing.

 

He suggested creating completely different help for just one tool. Throw out the old stuff and start over.

Once I played devil’s advocate for awhile, I began to see where he was going with this. I suggested a tool that I thought would be a good candidate. So I think we’ve picked our One Thing for this release.

Here’s how I’m thinking about our One Thing so far:

  • Make sure everything the user needs to know is accessible from one place.
  • Target two very different points of interacting with the help: the getting started phase and the troubleshooting phase.
  • Use media that are best suited to the user and the information that needs to be conveyed.
  • Make the help interesting, fun and effective. Grab and keep the user’s attention long enough to convey what needs to be understood. Defuse frustration.

And again (annoyingly), my manager is right; it’s much less daunting to try to make one thing better than to try to make everything better.

Now to persuade a few of the developers to star in our walk-through video….

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