The 7 Essentials of Highly Successful Project Initiations

Seasoned project managers know that successful projects most often start with successful beginnings. In fact, before actual project implementation, the mix of the project, people, tools, and approaches could either spell success… or disaster. Thus, it is important to set and manage the expectations of all project stakeholders because how they will perform their roles and responsibilities, or achieve desired outcomes and other motivational factors depend on what they know about the venture.

Project Initiation is that critical stage of the project where information about the nature of the project, why the project exists, who is involved, and how the project will be delivered must be laid down. Meri Williams, author of “The Principles of Project Management” (2008) cites seven best practices for a successful project initiation. Let us pick up and expand upon her seven best practices:

On ExecutiveBrief: The 7 Essentials of Highly Successful Project Initiations
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Working in IT and killing off the hyphen

Talking about jobs is boring

vintage typewriterOne of the questions that was often asked in my previous interviews for technical writing was, “Don’t you think you will get bored with this job?” Surely, technical writing is not as colorful as, say, writing novels or short stories or building software. The job is pretty simple, depending on the process that you have established with the rest of your team or with yourself, and it is more or less composed of data gathering, reviewing the subject (which usually in my case is an application that I could play around with), conferring with SMEs, planning, writing, proofreading, revising, formatting, more proofreading, more revising, more formatting, QA and more revising, more formatting, final copy. Other aspects of the job include learning a lot about the technologies and scripting or programming languages that help you perform your job, and mind you, there are many.

I remember a conversation I had once with an acquaintance about this person whose favorite past-time seemed to be to hurl vitriol about practically anything that attracted his attention. While I thought that the reason for the person’s angst was a deeply-ingrained attitude problem, the acquaintance judged that it must be because he was “just” a technical writer. I beg to disagree.

“Talking about my job may be boring as hell, but I suppose having to listen to the discussion is a small price to pay for actually getting to do it. And I do enjoy actually doing my job. I don’t do it because I have an underinflated sense of self. I don’t do it so I can have something to bitch about. I don’t do it so I can play with computer stuff (that’s a bonus)…

“I’m a tech writer because I solve problems with words. It’s the best intersection I’ve been able to find for my creativity, my analytical abilities, my drive, my compulsion to learn, etc. And all those things which make me one of the coolest people on the planet to know, I can employ them every day when I go into work. I don’t have to leave any bit of myself behind when I walk in the door. I don’t have to pretend I’m something else just to keep money coming in.”

“So, yeah, talking about tech writing is boring. Because actually doing it is much more fun and a hell of a lot more productive.”

Creative Tech Writer

Link dump: Silver Surfer, Beauty and Work Stuff

A great way to make the reader RTFM

Kathy Sierra once again wrote a rather passionate blog entry about encouraging the readers to RTFM. A lot of technical writers and information developers might argue that it could all depend on the material, or the context within which a particular piece of information is being written. Or more importantly, it all depends on the end-user whose attention span narrows down with every passing second (i.e., losing passion to learn from TFM).

Sierra’s definitions of characteristics of a “world class” learning material is a little vague, but it they could be interpreted in many ways as long as you have the end-user in mind:

Characteristics of World-Class User Learning Materials

1) User-friendly
Easy to use when, where, and how you need it.

2) Based on sound learning principles
i.e. users actually learn from it, not just refer to it.

3) Motivational
Keeps users willing to push forward to higher “levels”

user manual

Essentially, an “ideal” learning material should be fun, smart and accessible.

How to Engage the End-User

We keep wondering why users won’t RTFM, but just look at our FMs! Nice brochures are printed on that coated silky paper that begs to be touched, while the manual is printed on scratchy office-grade paper. Even just that one change–making the user manual as touchable as the marketing material would be a good start.

Why marketing should make the user manuals!

I remember the time that I first attempted to use someone’s ‘s bioni-age souped-up digital SLR, which, to my chagrin, no matter how much I tinkered with it, stayed on the “P” mode.

I don’t usually go about RTFM when the product or service is easy to use in the first place. What really ticks me off is a terribly developed product or service accompanied by a terribly designed FM. Just because something is complicated does not mean it’s smart. It’s just complicated.

Kathy Siera‘s post about focusing too much on the tool rather than the user (or the use of the tool) makes a lot of sense. A few key ideas:

  1. Are we focusing too much on the tool (e.g. camera) rather than the thing our users are trying to do with the tool (e.g. photography)? And by “focusing”, I mean that your documentation, support, training, marketing, and possibly product design are all about the tool rather than whatever the tool enables.
  2. Is the product just too damn hard to use even if a user does know what they want to do with it?
  3. Do we encourage/support a user community that emphasizes mastery of the thing the tool is for?
  4. Do we train our users to become better at the thing they use the tool for, in a way that helps make the need for all those other features seem obvious?