NEWS FLASH: Technical Communicator Saves World

by Peggy Bennett - Date: 2007-01-22 - Word Count: 621 Share This!

I had a boss several years ago who was amused by my earnest and relentless preaching about the importance of technical communication in today's business world. He once introduced me to some colleagues as "the tech writer who is going to save the world!"

Well, okay, perhaps I do go a little too far on occasion. People have kidded me that I am not just performing a technical writing job - I am on a technical communications "crusade".

But no matter how often people tease me about my overly-serious view of our profession, I remain convinced that we are on the cusp of an enormous change. Technical communication is poised for a breakthrough. We are about to take our place among the business disciplines that are viewed as critical to the success of technology projects.

Am I overstating things? I don't think so.

Evolution of Technology

Consider, for example, the recent evolution of the Information Technology business. In the eighties, we saw enormous changes in management and development methodologies. We began to apply new rigor to the process of transferring technology, from highly specialized technical teams to user communities with little or no technical expertise.

To facilitate the transfer of technology, to allow us to perform estimates, assign resources and track progress, we have developed strategies, methodologies, tools, and disciplines. But has this rigor Many studies have found that most Information Technology projects continue to fail at alarming rates. A study compiled by the Computer Research Institute of Montreal reports:

47% of all developed software is delivered, but not used

28% of software is paid for, but not delivered

18% of software is not used in the way it was intended

2% of software is delivered and used in the way it was intended

A report by the Canadian Auditor General's Office quotes a study made by the "Standish Group" on the major causes of failure in Information Technology projects. This study showed that:

31% of projects are canceled before completion

53% of the projects cost 189% of the original estimate

Overall, 16% of software projects are completed on time, on budget

In large companies, only 9% of software projects are completed on time, on budget

In the face of this dreadful record of failure, something significant is happening. People have started to realize that the development of a new computer system or software product is not just the transfer of technology, but is the transfer of knowledge.

Transferring Knowledge

And that's where we, as Technical Communicators, come in. Transferring knowledge is usually a communication task.

Industry research supports this point. Many studies reveal that the leading cause of systems development failure is ineffective communication between technologists and end-users during the requirements-gathering phase of a project. The Canadian Auditor General's report, for example, states that poorly defined and expressed requirements are a leading cause of project failure.

Happily, the situation is changing. People are starting to pay more attention to the human side of technology. We have noticed a definite trend. Companies are placing more emphasis on training, on consultation, on communication, and especially on documentation.

Customer Demands

Our customers - the demand side of the equation - are putting pressure on the technocrats to improve communication processes and deliverables.

This is our moment. It is our invitation to persuade managers and technical colleagues that our skills should be brought to bear at the start of a project, when communication is complex and critical. It is our chance to demonstrate that we have confidence, fortitude, and the ability to join our colleagues in the complicated early days of system design and development.

True, we may not save the world. But I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't manage to bail out a few of the projects that are currently destined to become gloomy statistics in an Auditor General's report.

Related Tags: technical writing information technology users

Peggy M. Bennett is a veteran technical and freelance writer. She makes her home in Los Angeles, where she is a technical consultant. An avid researcher, she collects Dickens memorabilia and spends her free time writing, traveling, and enjoying life's journey with her husband, her wee Scottie Bonnie Jean, and two beautiful granddaughters.

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