bookmark_borderNew Manager: How do you take over as manager for a group of technical writers?

I recently received an email which asked:

Since my career seems to be following a path broadly similar to yours … I’d love to know what your experience was and any lessons learned.

Specifically Mark, who sent the email, asked a few questions:

  1. How do you take over as manager for a group of technical writers?
  2. How do you get better management buy-in (promise cheaper or faster dox?)?
  3. What are the first activities you should do (content audit, benchmarking?)?
  4. How soon is *not* too soon to start changing things?

I’ll break each question out into a new post so, without further ado, onto question #1.

How do you take over as manager for a group of technical writers?

Typically if you are joining an established team then it pays dividends to take your time to settle in, understand their working processes and day to day habits. It’s fair to presume that they have a set of processes that work for them and that are tailored for their environment. That’s not to say that those processes couldn’t be improved but avoid being brash and making changes for the sake of it. You got the job, you don’t need to ‘make your mark’ by changing things the minute you get in the door.

I’m not sure if I have a management style per se, but I do try and be as open as possible. If I don’t complete a task I say so, and if I hear something that the team might want to know, I’ll tell them. Beyond that I let them manage their day to day activities and try and make sure that my role only extends as far as pulling everything together into a cohesive view across the entire documentation set. I strongly believe that a good manager is one who removes obstacles and deals with issues, whilst promoting his team at every opportunity. I’ve been lucky that the team I currently have are diligent and motivated, all I really do is guide them when they need it.

As a new manager it’s important to quickly build relationships with everyone with whom you’d like to be involved. I’d suggest that that typically means almost every area of the company. A short introductory meeting with each manager or team lead is usually enough, a quick chat to outline what you are trying to achieve with your team, and how it may benefit them. This is largely the beginnings of managing the expectations of what your team can bring to a company, as well as building some bridges.

Currently I have good ties into Sales, Pre-Sales, Marketing, Training and our project staff. It can be tricky keep everyone up to speed, but the benefits of having a consistent message is an easy one to sell. These introductory meetings also allow you to re-instate the position of your team. Previously it may have been the case that “ohhh we don’t talk to Marketing” but you can use the fact that you are new to break through the socio-political barriers, after all, you don’t know any better, do you?

Gaining buy-in from your team is the main thing that you need to figure out. Taking a soft approach when you first join, making sure that you are learning from the team and not dictating things is important. Ask questions by all means, sometimes a simple question might prompt the team to realise something they had noticed (aka the ‘can’t see the wood for the trees syndrome’) but it makes sure that you are seen as a team player.

Finally you need to understand the business plan. Ultimately part of your job is to make sure that your team is contributing towards the goals of that plan as efficiently as possible. You will have other expectations and agreed deliverables, and understanding the business plan will allow you to make the right decisions both for your team and for the benefit of the company.

Once you understand all of this, your position, and the position of your team in the company, you can start to formulate goals and aims. Setting a high level vision for where you want to take the team can be tricky but if you have spent the time gaining their trust and buy-in, you should be able to collate all of that into a vision that everyone agrees. Once you have that, revisit your colleagues that you introduced yourself to and update them. Set out the expectations for the coming few months and get going!

bookmark_borderFellow Followers

A couple of days ago I Twittered the following “Twitter-verse – recommendations for a Photo Poster service (ie, send them a JPG, they send back a large format ‘poster’ of said photo)“, to which Lyle responded “@gordon : Photobox, although it does depend on the size of print“.

Last night I browsed to the Photobox website and had a look around. I didn’t fill in any details, although I did bookmark the specific page I was looking for so I could revisit it at a later date (e.g. after pay day!).

And today I received an email from Twitter stating that “PhotoBox (PhotoBox) is now following your updates on Twitter.”

Coincidence? I think not.

Evidence that Twitter is now in the realm of ‘marketing tool’, definitely.

Thankfully Twitter remains controllable, frankly I don’t care how many people follow me. I can block those I really don’t want to see my updates, and the rest, be they person or company, do me little harm so they can follow, follow, follow all they like.

Remember people, you control your social media and your social media is not you.

bookmark_borderGet off your RSS

January draws to a close (already!!) and it is time for me to own up. I’ve been experimenting on you. Sorry about that but, on the bright side, it’s not like some weird alien abduction involving probes and brain washing.

In fact, if I’m honest, it’s only really occurred to me these past couple of days that I’ve been experimenting.

I’ve been posting to this blog for a very long time and it’s fair to say, and indeed I did say it, that my blogging mojo was slowly eroding. To try and see if it was just laziness I decided that I’d try and post every single day for at least the month of January, and then see how I felt.

This is contrary to most of the advice and reassurance I was given, which largely boiled down to the fact that I need only post when I wanted to and that the lovely, smart, beautiful people who read this blog would be quite happy.

Quality not quantity they said.

Pfffftttt, I said.

Which brings us right up to date.

Putting aside the part of me that writes all this for the sheer fun of it, I turn to my stats. Surely with a more regular stream of content, my stats would be on the rise? I may it stands to reason, doesn’t it?

You’d think.

It hasn’t. Not one jot. My average (130 visits a day) remains as it was throughout all of last year. Flat, static, constant.

Mind you, I don’t actually know how many people read the posts via RSS (dear people who make clever website stats thingies, can’t I get ONE single via of all the consumers of my content?). I’m an avid RSS user myself and I know how often, on average, I actually click through to read a website

So I’d like to extend my experiment a little. For today only, could I trouble you, dearest RSS reader, to click through to the website? You don’t have to leave a comment, just load up the website if you read this post.

I’ll post before and after stats, so come on people LET’S MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!!

bookmark_borderFeeling Good

Birds flying high you know how I feel,
Sun in the sky you know how I feel,
Reeds driftin’ on by you know how I feel

OK, so it’s maybe not a new day, a new life, or at least not in the grander scheme of things. I’m not reborn or anything, but there is a noted shift in my mindset and thinking these past few weeks.

Perhaps it is down to the fact I’m writing everyday. Yes, some of the blog posts have been less than inspirational but I’m enjoying the habit of making myself write.

Perhaps it is the realisation that my work persona is shifting slightly. That is more subtle, and has come about through several little comments from several different people, all of which have helped me realise a few things that I need to correct, and a few qualities I have that are beneficial to everyone else.

Perhaps it is because I am, slowly, beginning to lose weight again. A blip this week has already been tackled, and as soon as I’m done with this blog post I’ll be doing some exercises (in preparation for my return to physio for my dodgy knee). My blood pressure is down and under control.

Perhaps it is the fact that I have more of a routine of an evening. I’ve cut out a lot of things that used to distract me that weren’t really bringing me any real benefit and have even found the time to read a little more (just started American Gods by Neil Gaiman).

Perhaps it is because I think, for once, I’m organised and on top of things and I’m starting to get a handle on a lot of things that kind of flummoxed me before.

Perhaps it is just because I’m that little bit older and a little more accepting of who I am.

Perhaps it is all that and more.

Perhaps I should go back through this post and remove the word “perhaps” as it doesn’t now fit with my current internal soundtrack. Sing it, Nina.

Stars when you shine you know how I feel
Scent of the pine you know how I feel

And I know how I feel

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
For me
And I’m feeling good

bookmark_borderPreviously on 24… er.. this blog…

One thing I don’t do very often is revisit previous, recent, posts and offer any closure or update. However I think the following are worthwhile revisiting:

1. My iPhone Apps
In the process of writing that post, I realised that the some applications I did have on my iPhone weren’t quite right. So I spent a little time hunting for better alternatives and on the way picked up a couple of new applications.

Replaced applications include:

  • Tweetie in for Twitterific – Twitterific was great when it first came out but seems to have been left dormant, Tweetie is far more complete.
  • Remember the Milk in for Zenbe lists – Zenbe is a good, web aware, list app but it’s not as good as RTM for task management. I’ve had a badly used RTM account for ages so this was a good push to get me focussed on using it, especially as I’ve now put money behind it (you need a Pro subscription to use the app on your iPhone). Working well so far.

New applications, some of which I’m still evaluating, include:

  • CameraBag – a simple photo manipulation app with presets that mimick various effects. Very much a one trick pony but kinda fun nevertheless.
  • Tumblrette – I have a Tumblr account, and this app might help me make better use of it rather than just recycling blog posts and Twitter statuses.
  • RunKeeper Pro – I had the lite version of this but the Pro version was offered free for one day, so I’ve nabbed it and put it back on the iPhone in the hope I get back to jogging sometime this year.
  • MMS – which provides MMS capabilities on my iPhone, not done much with this yet
  • SaiSuke – which gives me direct access to all my Google Calendars. Not quite sure why I have this, think I thought it did more than it does!

I also re-jigged my home pages some, and they now look like this (click for bigger):

iPhone Apps

2. MacBook screen issues.
I reported a weird glow, right in the centre of my MacBook screen, that would appear and disappear, seemingly, intermittently.

The circumstances of when I first noticed this was when I was sitting on the sofa with the laptop, I was facing the window and it was a nice sunny day outside. I was dropping the brightness to eke out a little more battery life (too lazy to go upstairs and get the power cord) and when I dropped the brightness to 0 (a black screen) there was the weird glow right in the middle of the screen. I tried to replicate this effect later in the evening but couldn’t.

Got all that?

Now take a look at this photo of the case of a MacBook. Notice where the Apple logo is, that translucent section of the casing? Right in the middle of the screen.

Yup. That’s right. Sunlight streaming through the Apple logo onto the back of the ‘darkened’ LCD screen.

Thanks to Matt for figuring this out.

So, apparently, it’s not just my Mother that is an idiot.

Speaking of which…

3. My Mother is an idiot.
At Christmas we got my parents a Wii Fit board to go with their new Wii. My Mum has been using it and enjoying the various mini-games, one of which includes using the position of your body on the board to help balance a tight rope walker as he walks between two buildings (on the tight rope).

You lean left on the board to make him lean left, right to go right. It’s pretty basic but quite tricky.

So I could understand when my Mum said that she couldn’t complete the task, that she kept ‘falling off’. It is quite a tricky game.

However it was only when she mentioned it to Dad that she realised why.

She had the Wii Fit board round the wrong way. Lean left to go right…

Sorry Mum, but I need to do SOMETHING to distract from my moment of idiocy!