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Term of the Week: Project Management

What is it?

Everything needed to complete (or end) a temporary effort, preferably with schedule, budget, scope, quality, and risk constraints in balance.

Why is it important?

Writing well is just the start. You also have to organize and deliver your work on time and on budget, in a way that leaves your collaborators willing to work with you again.

Why does a technical communicator need to know this?

Understanding something and explaining it is the core responsibility of a technical communicator. However, getting to do that job more than once requires taking more responsibility than that. Sustainable success requires planning your work effectively and communicating realistically with all your stakeholders about what is important to each of them.

Writing projects – like all projects – rarely go exactly as planned. Scope, schedule, and budget tend to change once projects are underway, and managing your stakeholders’ expectations about that is part of the job. You must be able to recognize when the plan needs to change and enroll stakeholders in change management, for example, by calculating and securing their agreement to an adjusted schedule and budget. You must be able to anticipate risks and enroll stakeholders in appropriate risk management. Finally – getting back to the core responsibility – you must actually deliver the expected results on time and within budget, as defined by the agreed-upon adjusted plan.

Often, writers serve not just as resources on project teams but also as leaders within those teams. The lead or sole writer on a project is often responsible for planning and managing relevant tasks within that project. Approaches vary, but writers are generally expected to plan and monitor their tasks and dependencies. Whether projects use waterfall-style work breakdown schedules or newer methodologies such as agile development, where scrum team members work in sprints to complete stories on a project backlog, writers have both resource and leadership roles to play.

Good writers employ their verbal and illustrative communication skills, their bigger-picture views of user experience design, and their customer-advocacy attitudes to increase team velocity both directly and indirectly, and, as a result, they often find themselves recruited into project and people management roles.

A good writer doesn’t just write well but also organizes the project of writing something well.

About Erin Vang

Photo of Erin Vang

Erin Vang, PMP, has several decades of experience in commercial software documentation, quality assurance, project and program management, localization, content strategy, and people management, currently as a technical communication manager at Dolby Laboratories.

Previously she worked in R&D for the JMP division at SAS, at Abacus Concepts, and SYSTAT, and in 2008 she formed the consultancy Global Pragmatica LLC®, offering services in facilitative leadership, localization, and custom statistical tool development.

Term: Project Management



Twitter: @erinvang