Down the drain

This entry was posted by on Friday, 27 August, 2004 at

So, it would seem that getting my hands on the Help and User Guide documents to edit and update is proving to be quite difficult.


For some reason, when our marketing/web designer/tech-writer was let go, the user guide and help file projects were handed to our QA team. Which struck me as odd. I had been reviewing the files in the past for Steve (the tech writer) and that relation ship seemed to work well. I was getting deeper into the actual creation of content and had -thought- was being groomed to take it over at some point.

Turns out I was wrong. Even though when I was hired on, I pushed the idea that I wanted to move into technical writing and was given complete ownership over the knowledge base because of that desire; Even though I had been asking very pointedly who was going to be owning these files now that Steve was gone; Even though I had already been doing that job at a lower level, I was seemingly overlooked as a possibility to take the user guide and help files too.

I wasn’t asked if I wanted that project. And when I asked, I was told the QA team would be handling it.

Now that the QA guys have it (only one of the two is actually creating the content), I was pushing to at the very least HELP with it, since they are also busy working on getting the new desktop app tested and fixed. Everything was going well until yesterday. Jay had sent me (and Matt) the help file to review his changes. And that is pretty much all I got.

Now let me back up and explain for a bit: The help file is actually a .hlp file which is called by our desktop app whenever you click on a “?” icon in any dialog. This launches the contextual help for that specific dialog. At this point, Jay has only updated maybe 12 portions of help text corresponding to these dialogs, which leaves approximately 90% of the file untouched. The problem came when I had to figure out what he had changed. When I asked for a listing of what he had worked on so I could review ONLY what he had updated and not the entire file, I received a vague list of items which proved difficult in helping me locate the modified help items. When I asked Jay what these corresponded to, I used one as an example. From his e-mail, with the app and help file in front of him, he couldn’t even tell me which help dialog the example referred to.

And this is where it really turned on me.

My job is dependant on the help files and user guide. If it weren’t for these resources, I would have NO time for anything but training users. Because of this, I am very committed to seeing these docs updated appropriately for the new version, if for nothing else but to save me time. I want to help. I am trying to help. And I am asking to help. But when I can’t even find the portions of a file which have been changed, and the person who made the changes can’t find it for me either, then I CAN’T help. And damn if I didn’t get frustrated.

And my frustration caused Jay frustration. So he said “thanks for your help” and “don’t worry about it”. Twice. And again in an email I received this morning with the updated help file and some fixes noted.

So in no uncertain terms, I have been told that I am not needed when it comes to helping with the user guide or help files. The holy grail that I have been searching for here has been swept further away from me. And damn that pisses me off. I am back to just support again. Hopefully when we hire the second person to help with implementation and support, I can take ownership of the help and userguide files in a coup d’etat style move.

I need this. It has been my carrot for far too long here. Unless I can shift my position to less customer contact and more content creation for user self-help, I am not going to be happy. I have been front line support for far too long. I need to be in a position now to do the time consuming research and writing and not have to answer e-mails or phone calls that interrupt me at the most in-opportune times. It is time for me to let someone else take the calls and e-mails while I work on other more pro-active projects, rather than re-acting all day to customer problems.

In other news… well, there really isn’t any.
Dinner with meg and Craig tonight, dinner with Roni and Eran tomorrow, and then dinner with Colleen Tom Terri John and Mary on Sunday. Then off on Monday to recover.

7 Responses to “Down the drain”

  1. My two cents..

    Your frustration is understandable, but you’ll want to be careful not to step on the other guy’s toes. Tech writing may be the job you want, but it’s the job he HAS. With all of the changes in the company, perhaps he’s feeling a little insecure and doesn’t want to give up any of his responsibilities. If he accepts help from you and you do it better or faster, he becomes less and less necessary, not to mention the fact that it will make him look bad. No one wants that. The last thing you want (and I say this from experience) is to have someone threatened by you or jealous or just pissed off….that starts them griping about you and criticizing you behind your back, etc., and also causes unnecessary conflict within the office. The next thing you know, YOU are the one under the microscope. (A year and a half ago I got a damn near perfect performance review and 4 mos later found myself unemployed because of what someone else SAID about me) My advice to you, especially in the midst of so many changes in your office, is to step back and continue to thrive where you are for a while – that’s where your company needs you to be right now. That doesn’t mean they don’t have other things in mind for you later when the company stablizes a little bit.

    YOU may know you can do the tech writing better, but trying to take ownership in a coup d’etat style move can backfire far too easily, creating an enemy of Jay and making you look bad in far too many ways to list (would you trust a co-worker who did that to someone?). Give Jay your support and if he does something you really like, let him know (that’s what a good manager/team leader/team PLAYER does). Let him know you’re available if he needs anything, then let him do his own job. Jay will appreciate it, respect you and your opinions more because of your support, and he will be more likely to accept your help in the long run if he does not feel you are a threat or a source of conflict/stress/frustration. Even if he is doing a crappy job overall, there must be something he does well – concentrate on that. If you can’t figure out what the hell he did, ask him for assistance in a way that shows you respect his knowledge and not in a way he’ll take as criticism. If you really want to gain points, ask his opinion about something (there must be something he knows that you don’t!). I’m not saying you should brown-nose, kiss-up, or be insincere so don’t take it that way. I’m just saying you’ll catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.

  2. Re: My two cents..

    I think you misunderstand, and I may have not been clear to begin with:
    Dealing with the user guide and help files was Steve’s job. He was let go. There was no official transfer of the project, it was simply thrown at the two QA guys to deal with when they had time.

    I am not pissed because I know I can do it better. There are actually two issues here, and are distinctly different in my mind: 1. I want full control. Barring that, 2. Jay had actually asked me to help. I fully understand my role in assisting Jay by reviewing what he has done. The issue here is that I was unable to review his work, because I simply could not find what he had changed. And THAT is where the frustration was. He wasn’t helping me help him by indicating what had been modified. And I did ask him to clarify what had been changed. The list I received back was unusable to me because it was so utterly vague… And I quote from the end of his e-mail: “…and many more exciting things. I can’t remember everything else.” Now you tell me how the hell I am supposed to help him!

    I AM letting him do his job. I don’t have any issue with that. I like him. I enjoy working with him. He does his job well. The problem here is that I can’t do MY job in helping review what he has asked me to.

    And I am going to have to disagree with a bit of your advice. Right now, my company can not afford for me to site back and thrive at just doing support. I need to excel at support AND step up to take more responsibilities within the company. When there are only 9 people in the office, you HAVE to step up to new challenges every day and go beyond the scope of your job description.

    When it all boils down, neither Jay nor Matt WANT the responsibility of the help files or user guide and have told me as much, which is why I offered to help as much as I could. But they are stuck with it and I am unable to assist as much as I would like to because I simply can not do a full review of the help files or user guide before the product is released. A full review of both would take me well into next year to complete; and that is without me doing any re-writes, just noting what needs to be changed.

  3. Well why didn’t you say that in the first place?

    Apparently I did misunderstand and no, you weren’t clear to begin with….well, not clear to me anyway, but then I’m kinda dense that way. However, you DID make it sound as if you were attempting to help and he was basically telling you they didn’t need or want your help and pushing you as far away from doing it as possible, and upsetting him in the process. It also sounded as though if you weren’t going to be allowed to do it, you were going to yank the responsibilities out from under him whether he liked it or not.

    “And when I asked, I was told the QA team would be handling it.”

    “Now that the QA guys have it (only one of the two is actually creating the content), I was pushing to at the very least HELP with it”

    “And my frustration caused Jay frustration. So he said “thanks for your help” and “don’t worry about it”. Twice.”

    “So in no uncertain terms, I have been told that I am not needed when it comes to helping with the user guide or help files. The holy grail that I have been searching for here has been swept further away from me. And damn that pisses me off…………..I can take ownership of the help and userguide files in a coup d’etat style move.”

    You also made it sound like Jay didn’t know what he was doing:

    “I received a vague list of items which proved difficult in helping me locate the modified help items. When I asked Jay what these corresponded to, I used one as an example. From his e-mail, with the app and help file in front of him, he couldn’t even tell me which help dialog the example referred to.”

    And I absolutely agree that you should step up and take on more responsibilites above and beyond the scope of your job description – I think everyone should regardless of their position. I didn’t mean to make is sound like I thought you should just sit there with your mouth shut and do nothing else, I just meant that you shouldn’t force your assistance on someone who doesn’t want your help…’cause that’s what it sounded like to me.

    And one more thing…

    How dare you disagree with me. Just because you’re god doesn’t mean I don’t give good advice. My advice was excellent, it just didn’t apply to your specific situation at this point in time.

  4. Re: Well why didn’t you say that in the first place?

    Yep… I was indeed a bit unclear. I apologize for that. Things are sooooo odd and complex here that a lot of the subtleties are lost in my recollections when put in “story” form.

    Jay was basically faced with a frustration and rather than deal with it square on, he chose to opt out of moving past it altogether and push my help aside, even though he had requested it. Which is his prerogative I guess. Just didn’t make me happy.

    So aside from some confusion and misunderstandings on both our parts, I really don’t disagree with your advice as you have restated it. You’re correct that it is indeed good advice, just not for this specific (and clarified) situation.

  5. Re: Well why didn’t you say that in the first place?

    well okay then….as long as you’re clear about the part where I’m right.

  6. tricks of the trade…

    I just read this from a link at Neil Gaiman’s blog in an article about tricks of the trade from various professions. I read this one, and thought of you, although I believe what you do is somewhat more complex:

    Desktop Support

    When desktop support technicians resolve a ticket, they are usually required to document the cause and solution to the problem. Supervisors see these records, so you have to be professional, but can usually get away with using the acronym “PEBKAC” in situations where the user caused the initial problem. PEBKAC stands for “Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair.”

    ho-ho.

    Here’s the whole article:

    http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/how_to/tricks_of_the_trade.php

    Hope you had a nice weekend,
    tJ

  7. Re: tricks of the trade…

    I’ve been using that one for a while myself…. my personal favourite, however, is the “eye dee ten tee” error. Which shows up when written out as:

    ID10T

    And believe me, I get enough of them at my job. It may be complex at times, but for the most part the Pebkac and ID10T users take up the majority of my time.

    And yes, a great weekend was had. I expect a more robust update within the next day or two to thoroughly dissect it. 🙂


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