Tag: Google Docs

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.

Random notes of no importance

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Is it wrong that I’d really rather Ollie killed the mice rather than bring them into the house to play? It’s one thing picking up a dead mouse, quite another to spend 20 minutes chasing a live one round the living room at 3 am.

Melody Gardot & R.E.M.
After catching her appearance on Jools Holland (and as a side pondering, does anyone refer to it as “Later… with Jools Holland”? No, it’s just “Jools Holland” innit) I listened to some samples from her album and promptly purchased it.

Listening to it I can picture her onstage persona, sultry jazz singer, and I wonder if that impacts how I engage with her music?

It was the same after I saw R.E.M. a couple of years ago, their last couple of albums had largely escaped my notice (to the point that, for example, I’m still not entirely sure on which album the track “Lotus” can be found), and I was a bit non-plussed… until I heard the tracks live.

Yet after the gig, re-listening to those same tracks now is a different experience.

Yeah I know, nothing startling but it’s been on my mind.

That and the fact that R.E.M.’s new album, Accelerate is rather stonkingly good.

Power out
All of a sudden the screen went blank, the music fell silent, and the power LEDs faded. We’d had a powercut.

“Bugger” he exclaimed in annoyance.

Actually he said “ohh fucksticks” because he was rather cheesed off having spent 30 minutes carefully crafting a newsletter entry. Then hope made an appearance for he had used Google Docs and Google Docs autosaves every now and then and maybe, just maybe, he hadn’t just lost all of his work.

And then the glimmer of hope widened, the websites he’d been using for research were opened in Firefox tabs, perhaps it will have saved them as well.

Lo and behold it was true. Google Docs HAD saved all of his changes, Firefox DID remember which tabs he had open.

Ahh the joy of the righteous, I KNEW I used web apps for a reason.

Mind you, it still amazes me that GOOGLE Docs don’t allow you to send the documents by email… I’m sure they have an email client as well… right?

Financial Ponderingmentness
Between oil prices rising, and the credit crunch … er… crunching, I’ve been taking stock of our financial situation. It’s not that bad, although the looming remortgage will impact it in one way or another.

I’m tempted to go through the remortgage process myself, following the Moneysavingexpert’s guide of course, but wondered if anyone else had done the same?

The art of complaining

Apparently we are rubbish at it, us Brits. We’d rather quietly seethe than give voice to any kind of negative comment or any hint that we are complaining.

I’m an occasional complainer, mainly because I just don’t see the need to bother with things I consider mundane so I tend to save up my complainments* and currently they are all being focussed on a letter of complaint.

There is a twisted joy to writing a nice meaty letter of complaint, I guess it’s akin to actors preferring to play the bad guy, it’s much more fun. That said I have never ever written a letter of praise. Maybe I should do one of those too, balance out the karma??

Anyway, as we will be without a kitchen until the first week in April, at the earliest, then I’m currently pulling together a letter pointing out that the delay was entirely the fault of the surveyor not doing his job (he didn’t check the electrics or plumbing, both of which the contract confirms he has to verify as being up to scratch) and that we expect some compensation for the inconvenience. I’m still trying to figure out the amount.

Thankfully we’ve only paid a deposit so have a few thousand pounds worth of bargaining chips.

Part of me is hacked off it’s going to take so long, part of me is relieved that the end is starting to appear over the horizon, even if it’s still a little too far away.

If this were a movie, this is the part where I lick my pencil, and starting scribbling on a yellow legal pad.

But this isn’t a movie (hopefully you’ve noticed that already) so I’ll flip to the Firefox tab that has Google Docs open, and start composing my magnum opus in the field of letters of complaint.

* I am fighting against made up words at work right now (“productizing” anyone??) and it’s kinda turned into … well making up words all over the place.

Google Docs

Make my living writing software documentation. There is, of course, much more to it than that, but that remains the bulk of the job. I also write as a hobby, both on this blog and on my other more personal blog. I also maintain a third website although that has been somewhat neglected recently (note to self: get the finger out!).

Suffice to say I write a lot.

In addition to that I have also adopted what is increasingly known as ‘web worker’ tendencies. As I work with, and on, computers it is simple enough to switch between different tasks, and the web is a key part of that working practise.

And the key part of that practise, for me, is Google Docs. The ability to import and export to Word, to easily maintain the content in relevant folders, and of course the ability to access and edit the content from any PC… well it’s almost a no-brainer.

But one thing that I’ve recently found useful, is the ability to share the documents, allowing others to view and edit them. Admittedly it was only between two people, but if you have a small team, or are working on a project that spans the globe (something that is increasingly common these days) then it’s worth having a look at Google Docs.

Combine & Conquer

Combine and conquer

It’s been so long since I started this whole ‘oneman’ thing, combining all my online ‘identities’ into one amorphous mass, that it was quite good to take a break, step back and make sure that it’s working for me.

Ultimately the creation of onemanwrites.co.uk was to stop the build up of “work” related thoughts and allow me somewhere to expand my musings on Technical Communications and explore web design theories in a little more depth than I have here.

That leaves Informationally Overloaded as my “pop culture/diary/splurge” site. Simple.

Of course running two personal blogs, maintaining a side job (onemandesigns.co.uk – which started the whole “oneman” thing), and keeping on top of Scottish Blogs means I need to stay pretty well organised and, as I don’t tend to plan my blog posting that far in advance, I have been relying on a pen drive and a scattering of text files to store various drafts of posts for both blogs, as well as other items to be tracked for Scottish Blogs and one man designs.

It’s a clunky system which leaves me completely stuck if I forget my pen drive or, god forbid, it dies on me but it stops me having to login to two different WordPress installs everytime I want to re-visit a draft post before publishing it (ohh yes, and sometimes I edit them too). Admittedly this issue has become more prevalent since starting the new blog (onemanwrites, do keep up) as I’m actually making the effort to edit what I write before posting over there and, as you’ll no doubt have noticed, I tend to just dump stuff on this site without too much editing beforehand… yeah yeah I know, it’s THAT obvious.

My “system” for coping with all this isn’t ideal and largely evolved by accident, it’s quirks are known and unfortunately it’s starting to creak at the edges. I’ve hunted around for a better way, of course, and hadn’t really found one until I stumbled across this post on Matt Haughey’s new blog where he outlines how he is using various Google Apps (and others) along with Google Browser sync to maintain browser sessions across multiple computers allowing him to “work” from anywhere. It was like being slapped around the chops with a damp halibut.

Now I know there are naysayers that say that Google is harvesting our souls and we’ll all end up as slaves to lucifer but, frankly, I stopped listening to them when I purchased www.gordonmclean.co.uk (something else I was advised to be ‘careful’ about). It’s easy to be flippant when nothing has happened to you, but I’m a pretty easy going guy and file most of the frantic rhetoric on this issue in a big folder called “yeah… I guess…”. Don’t get me wrong, I value my privacy as much as the next person but I also quite enjoy living my life and not worrying the stuff like that too much. Shit happens, and gets dealt with as and when.

So, after noodling about a little I now have Google “Docs & Spreadsheets” as a central place to hold draft posts for both my blogs and a simple to do list, Google Calendar which syncs with Outlook at work, Google Mail for.. well.. all my personal email, and Google Reader to check what you lot are posting.

I now have one place for draft posts, one place to maintain simple To do lists (until such times as Thinking Rock goes ‘online’ that is), and one place for my calendar and email. I still ‘backup’ my email to Thunderbird, and I still use Outlook at work as my main desktop calendar app (syncing with Google Calendar) but, in the main, I am now solely using web apps for all of my personal information needs.

The key advantage to drafting posts in Google Docs is that it allows you to publish straight to your blog. It comes with a stack of APIs so most blog platforms are covered and it also handles having more than one blog. I’ve been using it this way for the past few weeks, and it is smooooth. Of course there are some quirks and funnies and I really do wish they had done something smarter with photo handling (in other words I wish Google had bought Flickr rather than Yahoo) but I can’t fault it on many counts.

The major, and obvious, gotcha is that I’m now solely dependant on the internet as part of my “workflow” but that really hasn’t changed. Sure I used to work offline but I still need to be online to post, or send/check email and so on and on.

All in all it’s working for me, and I have to admit that, privacy concerns aside, Google are pretty damn good at creating web apps. Or at the very least, buying the successful ones and adding their own little tweaks.