Heidi Waterhouse has been a technical writer for twenty years. In this presentation at Write the Docs, Heidi explains how her job is akin to being the new sheriff in a mythical frontier town, and what that means in terms of assessing the project and making a difference for the company.
Here’s the thing about what Heidi says; it can apply to joining almost any project with other people.
I WISH I had heard this talk before I hired on with Apex, or started working on the Mad Norwegian books. Not that those projects did poorly! Not at all! But I spend so much time rebuilding the wheel when I take on new work.
I bet a lot of you do, as well.
Here are some of her key points:
Believe in your own expertise and authority. Then, get to writing. You were invited to be a part of this project for a reason. Stuff your imposter syndrome in the corner and start working the situation.
Make a seating chart of who is who in the office. Maybe it’s not a seating chart, maybe it’s an org chart. Maybe you just need to draw a little sketch with circles on it. Include names and specialties in the project, but also include things that will help YOU. Hair or eye color? Favorite tv shows? Keep notes until you can actually remember who these people are. If the project is short and your memory is as bad as mine, you may never remember.
Make sure you have access. Get the information you need. Ask people QUESTIONS. You are just starting out, now it the time when you get to ask questions and no-one will think you are bad for the job! Get everyone’s notes on what you are supposed to do. Make sure you have all the permissions and keys and emails and chat passwords.
Get to know the neighborhood (competitors and users). When I hired on at Apex, I started reading a LOT more short fiction, I assure you.
There’s more, a lot more. I found the presentation incredibly helpful. It also made me happy, as I feel that I independently came to some of the same conclusions as Heidi did about how to join a project. Go, watch, listen. It’s twenty minutes, and well worth your project management time.
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