Saturday, June 5, 2010

Differentiating areas of responsibilities

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that one of the most difficult tasks in technical writing is getting information from subject matter experts and other essential contributors. These people are often both our end customers and suppliers, and as tech writers, we walk a fine line when it comes to getting what we need to complete projects.

This task is even more frustrating when the information we need is actually something we are able to provide for ourselves. However, due to departmental processes and procedures, we must wait for "official" input and in the process, our projects are unnecessarily delayed.

I am currently working on a project and depend on a steady flow of input from another department. Unfortunately, the person who was creating this data for me has been laid off due to a company rule that limits the length of time a contractor can work. The department is already short one person and the remaining staff is having difficulty doing all the work that needs to be done. My data is only one of many projects they are working on, and now, the flow has stopped and I am almost out of work.

What's frustrating is that given access to the database, I could create this data myself. I would, of course, have someone from that group double-check my work, since they own this data, but still, the drafts could be created without their people having to get involved. I have suggested this several times, but this idea has been rejected. "It's their data," I've been told.

The problem is that, as the project coordinator, I am ultimately responsible to see this release is on time. As it is now, I am certainly going to miss my Sept. 1 deadline and there's nothing I can do about it. It's a no-win for everyone involved - the customers, my department, and the company.

What do we do when hard boundaries are set regarding areas of responsibility? Where do we draw the line. I know it's important to pick my battles, but when I find my deadlines slipping and know I could provide a solution, I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut!

All in a day's work, I suppose!

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