Month: January 2013

February Resolutions

Partly due to circumstance, partly by choice, I tend to let January just ‘happen’ and avoid any specific resolutions if I can. Admittedly, this month I’ve been getting my head into my new job, handing over previous responsibilities and as I spent last week in Sunnyvale working I’ve not had a routine around which to structure anything that requires my resolve.

February rolls around and it’s now that I’m looking at what I will be aiming for this year and, as this year I turn 40, I’m determined to continue the slow progress of last year and continue my weight loss. Hopefully I can get back into jogging, even if my knees complain it’ll give me the push to get them sorted properly, and the bike will make more of an appearance for sure.

I didn’t think I was that bothered about my age but now that it’s approaching, the number 40 is looming large. Add in my new role, which will have me working harder, and getting fit is a must. No more excuses.

I’ve started today if I’m honest, a light lunch and some fruit, and I’ll have some rice and vegetables for dinner, but that’s mostly to counteract last week! I’ve yet to step on the scales this year and I’m preparing for the worst, but I know I can do this, if I can just get into a routine.

Space

I’m sitting in a hotel room, it’s 8am, I’ve had breakfast, and we leave for the office in 20 mins. I have a couple of meetings scheduled, but thankfully I’m not too busy today.

This is not been the story for the rest of this week. Instead we’ve been leaving at 8am and starting full days of meetings and workshops from 8.30 until around 6.30. Then we go out for dinner as a group and get back to the hotel around 10pm. I’d then spend 30 minutes typing up some notes from the day, go to bed and wake around 5am.

I’m not complaining, I enjoy working hard, I enjoy the buzz of bouncing ideas back and forth, the challenges and arguments, and without a doubt this week has been a great success, work-wise.

But it does make me realise how much I need my own space for a few hours. It’s not an every day thing, but other than the flight I’ve not had much more than a few mins in the morning and later at night to gather my thoughts and take a breath.

I always knew I needed a release valve of some sort at times, but this week it’s been brought into sharp focus.

In other news, Sunnyvale is NOT living up to its name! It has been raining for 3 days now.

*disappointedface*

Everything Changes

Everything Changes

A new year, a fresh challenge.

I’ve been working in the Technical Communications field my entire career. From those first days, stumbling my way around FrameMaker 4 with only a vague idea of what I should be doing (and largely using the FrameMaker User Guide as a sample of both approach and layout) to my current incarnation as Product Information Manager which involves running a team of 6 technical writers, looking at what other services we could offer to other parts of the (now) global organisation I’m part of, not to mention running a developer community website and generally advocating a product view wherever possible.

Actually, make that my previous incarnation.

As of today I’m changing roles, with a new job title of Product Operations Manager.

I’ll be working within the Product Management Team dealing with operations issues, planning and so on, and generally helping the Product Managers, and Senior Architects do their day jobs (the phrase ‘herding cats’ has been used on more than one occasion so far).

It’s very exciting, a little bit scary (in a good way), and a big step out of my comfort zone of technical communications. Whilst the principles of managing a team with multiple deliverables and differing focus areas is something I’ve been doing for a while, it’s good to have a new challenge.

The new role will take me away from technical communications, and whilst I’ll still retain a passing interest I know myself well enough that it’s only a matter of time before I lose track of developments and trends altogether. I am a sucker for new things!

I’m not sure what that means for this blog, or my other interactions with the technical communications community, but I’ll figure that out in good time.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a job description, a new boss, new teammates and a whole new world to get my head into and it’s all kicking off this week. Hence why I’m sat in a hotel room in Sunnyvale writing this blog post.

Anyway, first things first.

Breakfast.

Everything Changes

A new year, a fresh challenge.

I’ve been working in the Technical Communications field my entire career. From those first days, stumbling my way around FrameMaker 4 with only a vague idea of what I should be doing (and largely using the FrameMaker User Guide as a sample of both approach and layout) to my current incarnation as Product Information Manager which involves running a team of 6 technical writers, looking at what other services we could offer to other parts of the (now) global organisation I’m part of, not to mention running a developer community website and generally advocating a product view wherever possible.

Actually, make that my previous incarnation.

As of today I’m changing roles, with a new job title of Product Operations Manager.

I’ll be working within the Product Management Team dealing with operations issues, planning and so on, and generally helping the Product Managers, and Senior Architects do their day jobs (the phrase ‘herding cats’ has been used on more than one occasion so far).

It’s very exciting, a little bit scary (in a good way), and a big step out of my comfort zone of technical communications. Whilst the principles of managing a team with multiple deliverables and differing focus areas is something I’ve been doing for a while, it’s good to have a new challenge.

The new role will take me away from technical communications, and whilst I’ll still retain a passing interest I know myself well enough that it’s only a matter of time before I lose track of developments and trends altogether. I am a sucker for new things!

I’m not sure what that means for this blog, or my other interactions with the technical communications community, but I’ll figure that out in good time.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a job description, a new boss, new teammates and a whole new world to get my head into and it’s all kicking off this week. Hence why I’m sat in a hotel room in Sunnyvale writing this blog post.

Anyway, first things first.

Breakfast.

Faith less

I can’t get no sleep.

That was pretty much the story of last week, with a million and one thoughts rushing through my head. I’d go to bed, read to relax and drop off, only to awaken a couple of hours later, wide awake. Sometimes I’d get back to sleep after a couple of hours of tossing and turning, sometimes I wouldn’t and so I’d try and be productive, mostly in an effort to empty my head as much as possible.

I hadn’t actually realised that was I suffer from in this instances, for they happen every now and then, is insomnia.

I always thought that was purely for those that couldn’t sleep at all, not for people like me who, now and then, would have periods where they couldn’t stay asleep.

Insomnia, or sleeplessness, is a sleep disorder in which there is an inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep as long as desired [source]

I’ve had this in the past, but it’s only recently I’ve realised that it usually occurs when there is a lot going on and that it’s partly driven by my fear of forgetting something. My memory is awful at the best of times, so when there are a few things going on I think my brain resorts to keeping me awake to get me to write things down…

Thankfully it’s passed, the last couple of nights have been mostly unbroken. Here’s to a few more as it’s gonna be another busy week.

I’ve just finished doing a couple of hours work today, and that deliverable needs to be ready for Tuesday for a big milestone in our current project. On Wednesday I’m off to Belfast for the day, my first time, although I doubt I’ll get to see much of it as we fly in at 9.20 and leave at 4.30. A few more busy days then on Sunday morning, bright and breezy, I’m off to California for a week, again with work.

No rest for the wicked it seems, quite literally in my case at times!

Going Global

One of the challenges the team will face this year is how to coordinate the creation of product documentation with geographically dispersed teams, across different product lines.

At present we have engineering teams in Glasgow, Belfast, Limerick, Jakarta, Sunnyvale CA, and Bedford NH, building four products and maintaining five other legacy applications. Currently we have six technical writers in Glasgow and one in Belfast. Initial assessments suggest there is a bit of a resourcing gap (a separate issue I’m dealing with) but beyond that the main challenge will be figuring out how to best work with these disparate teams.global-team2

I have asked this question in a couple of places and had some excellent responses. Some cover things we had already considered but there were some gems borne of real life experience that I was lucky enough to have shared with me. Many thanks to Tom Marshall, David Farbey, Cheri Mullins, Larry Kunz, Alan Bowman, and Kay Winter and others for their suggestions.

First things first though, and it will be important to discuss and agree on responsibilities, tasks, and roles. Naturally there will be a level of autonomy, so it makes sense to have sensible agreements on what issues require escalation and so on. Part of these early discussions will also need to include tooling agreement, writing styles and output formats. Ideally these can just be extend from what the team currently uses but that will have an impact on both sides.

The timezone is an obvious issue which could have a dramatic impact on communications between the teams. Case in point, the teams in Bedford and Jakarta have a 12 hour difference! So one of the first things we will need to do is consider, as we won’t have the luxury of immediacy, is a ‘rules of engagement’ or contract between teams as to how we will correspond, talk, meet and share information. Nothing too formal, but setting out expectations will do no harm. For example, when sending out an email should you expect an acknowledgement? Or should everyone have ‘read receipts’ enabled?

Some of the challenges we may face we already have solutions for; we use Google Docs for collaboration, we have conference lines ready, our engineers use a common JIRA install.

Thankfully there are numerous technologies that can help us with communications:

  • Everyday – Instant Messaging – for a quick question or two, and as a way to see who is available (and how you are working with), IM is a useful tool. Add in file sharing and it becomes a little more powerful.
  • Information Sharing – WIKI and Google Docs – for collaboration we’ve had good success with Google Docs, but there is no reason a WIKI couldn’t fulfil the same role.
  • Meetings – Skype or Google Hangouts – Skype nicely doubles as an instant messaging app, which also allows you to send files and of course you can host conference calls there. Recently I’ve seen some friends have success with Google Hangouts (part of Google+) which, as most laptops come equipped with a webcam these days, might be a good option too.

Not to forget the trusted old telephone! Ideal for a 5 minute catchup every day or so.

And, of course there will also need to be face-to-face meetings on a regular basis to make sure the technical writers feel part of the team, that includes organising social activities as well.

Other suggestions I heard, and which are worth heeding:

  • Regular conference calls – Make sure these have an agenda and that everyone has prepped beforehand to maximise usefulness.
  • Access to latest builds of the software – in our office we can checkout the latest build of the code any time we want, no reason remote technical writers can’t do the same.
  • Be sensitive to cultures, both professional practices and social niceties.
  • Adjust for time zones.

There are many pitfalls ahead and whilst I have great confidence we will figure them all out, obviously the more we can spot up front and negate, the better (and cheaper) the end solution will be. As ever, I have the advantage of working with smart people so I’m confident it will work, once we figure out exactly how.

Travelling home

Dumbarton Common, rainfall at dusk, originally uploaded by Gordon.

The train pulls out of the station, slowly gathers speed as I head to my home town. I am cocooned in steel, my music and my own thoughts. Face tingling from the fresh air.

There are several stops to be made, familiar names from my past. At one stop a man alights and heads down the platform, bulbous headphones sit proudly on his head. In his right hand he holds a carrier bag, contents unknown, in his left he carries the rhythm of the music that he is silently, but passionately, singing along with. His step falters and I wonder if he’s about to fall, but no, that drop of his knee was in dance not error. He is happily oblivious to the world.

Music can have that effect.

The train moves on, passing schools and shops, houses and tenements. Another station and as the train pulls out I glance over at a tenement window, attracted by movement. There, framed in a window, a shirtless man looks out, he surveys his view before lazily stretching and dropping back into the darkness of the room.

Familiar views of an oft travelled path continue to reveal themselves, 70s style tower blocks loom into view, peering over us as we speed by, shopping centres illuminate the afternoon gloom and then the River Clyde appears, dark and grey, ever widening, as it continues it’s dull eyed journey to the sea.

And on we speed.

I get off the train and start to walk, taking in the memories as the slowly float into view. Past my primary school where life was simpler, past the house of where Aunt Irene lived, no longer with us. Tinge of melancholy.

A story my Mother tells pops into my head.

Me as a young boy, on the way to primary school, sitting on the wall outside my Aunt Irene’s house. My Mother had overslept and on waking to found me gone, panicked and started phoning round. On answering, my Aunt Irene assured her I was just fine and that I was sitting on her wall, daydreaming.

Onwards now, past the entrance to the lane to the school. Sudden memory of a first kiss. Past the tiny street an Uncle used to live on, his bachelor flat a wonderous place for an inquisitive boy and the first place I heard Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It was also the scene of a chaotic meal, hosted by French friends of the family. To this day I’m still not sure if Pascal was winding me up when he said I would only be allowed one plate, so to wipe it clean with bread before the next course!

Onward to the street I grew up in, past the gardens I used to play in, the houses frequented. Too many memories to list, all suddenly flooding back. Overwhelming. Happiness and laughter dominate.

And then I’m home, as it will always be. My Mum waves from the window, I smile and the lyric flows over me once more:

I haven’t seen my mum for weeks,
But coming home I feel like I,
Designed these buildings I walk by.

Happily uncreative

I aspire.

I desire.

(I perspire).

I want.

But, it seems, it’s just not meant to be.

Whilst I can appreciate art in many forms, place value on the productions of others, it seems that I’m just not particularly creative.

Not that I can’t be creative to a certain level but I’ve long since realised my limitations in that area.

But realisation doesn’t stop the longing, the niggling feeling that I should be able to create something that is borne from me, something with meaning and value.

So I keep trying.

I conjure up word play in silly stories, blast out blog posts, tinker with web pages, play with photography.

None of it sticks.

But that’s ok.

Every time I try I learn something else, there are no failures, how can there be? I’m not doing any of it for anyone but me, so as judge and jury it is my own counsel that is silently kept. My inner critic happily announces that my latest offering is “not quite good enough”, or “could be better”, and the expectation is set anew.

I wonder how it would be were I to look at something I’ve created and instantly think “yes, that’s good”.

Will I ever know?

Regardless.

Happily imperfect.

Happy New Year

Looking forward is always a good thing, but I’m going to start this year by looking back at the lessons to be learned.

Things I will need to improve upon include better planning of work, there is one big project that I will head up that needs to be delivered by September, so I’ll be looking at how to get a better handle on that. One thing I learned last year was to rely more on my colleagues, to look to their strengths to compensate for my weaknesses; attention to detail is something I can struggle with so I’ll be getting some help with that by getting my plans reviewed by a couple of people before I present them to others.

Delegating the right things is something else I didn’t quite get right last year, there are some things I do need to keep tabs on but the rest of the work I can, and should, delegate to the rest of the team. They have proven they can deliver so I need to trust them to do so again (and they will, because as I may have mentioned, I am very lucky to work with some excellent people!).

However, it is a new year so let us look forward.

I’m going to keep on writing here, suggestions for topics or questions you’d like me to tackle are welcomed, and I’ll hopefully get back to the Technical Communications Conference again next year. I’ve got plenty of things to do for the ISTC website and at some point will be assessing a new authoring environment for the team which, possibly, will expand to include resource overseas.

Plenty of challenges then, which is just how I like it!