On Friday, as I was leaving office, I received a mail from my Documentation Manager (Doc Manager) that there was a major change to the module I was documenting. The release date for the software and the documentation remained unchanged which was the following Friday. The Doc Manager had also scheduled a call for 7 AM on Monday with the development team (dev team).
Why so early, you ask? Because I am a member of the documentation team for a Supply Chain Management (SCM) solution, being rolled out across 12 countries and the dev team is based out of Australia and Singapore. Given the time difference, these guys usually neck-deep in work, while I am still snoring in bed.
I was looking at a hectic week ahead!
I decided to take the call from home and then go to work. Equipped with a cup of hot Chai, I logged in to the conference call at 7 AM and what followed was a busy two hours. We (my Doc Manager, a colleague, and I) got a detailed walk-through. As the call progressed, we realized that the application would be ready only by Wednesday and that we would have to work off the design documents to start with.
When I logged in at the office, I found that the Dev Manager had forwarded the design docs. Armed with a few gallons of tea and several printouts, I sought the comfort of the rather cozy couch in the corner. I soon became engrossed in the documents and found the information I needed.
Armed with the initial information, I sought out my fellow technical writer who was holed up in another corner reading the design docs and we sat down to draft an initial Table of Contents (ToC). After a spirited two-hour discussion, we mailed the ToC to the dev team. Sprightly fellow that he was, the Dev Manager quickly went through the ToC and set us up for a call the next day. This time, thankfully, at 9 AM.
After a word with my Doc Manager, I headed home…
The day started with a short call that resulted in a final ToC and a decision that we needed to create a demo video as well. Since the application was not yet available, we started work on an initial draft of the document with the information we had. Midway I realized that I needed inputs from my colleague and hopped over for a discussion. Funnily, our discussion veered to the previous night’s football match. Only when others had joined in our animated argument, we realized that we had been sidetracked and got back to the task at hand.
By late evening, we realized we had done all we could without access to the application (we accomplished quite a lot) and so, called it a day.
Yippeeee! We had access to the application. After successfully exploring the system for a while—albeit after many a warning, error message, and reboot—I had a few queries for the dev team. My Doc Manager had a tough task getting everyone together on a short notice. I was pretty sure at one point I had spotted her juggling three phones, but she did it! And we had the answers we needed.
I got down to the task of completing the document, while my fellow technical writer set about planning and creating the video. As I began updating the document, I realized I had quite a lot to do; editing existing content, creating new content, updating workflows…. So I sat down to prioritize and plan my work. I decided to create the new content first and then concentrate on updating existing content (sometimes the change was small but vital; for example, a changed UI label). Having access to the application was a blessing; I could work on the application as I documented it. With the dev team available on chat, my queries were resolved immediately. My Doc Manager reviewed stuff as I completed it. How does she spot those teeny-tiny mistakes? Realtime took on a new meaning! But days such as these when the team works like a well-oiled machine under stress are some of the most satisfying.
Shifting up a gear, we completed the document and the video by noon. We uploaded the deliverables to the server and shot off a mail to the dev team requesting feedback. Pleased with ourselves, we went off for a spot of lunch at the neighborhood Chinese thela. Even before we could say Manchow,we got a call from an irate developer complaining that the demo was not working. Converting our order to a take away, we rushed back to our desks to troubleshoot. But lo and behold, the demo worked on our systems. We spent some time on the phone with the developer and tried the usual fixes. But nothing seemed to work.
After a lot of tinkering and head scratching, we decided to get the help of our in-house technical virtuoso; a man capable of bringing a hard drive that had been declared dead three days earlier to life and detecting new bugs in a software that has been running for decades.
Such talents had made him a busy chap so we cajoled him with a few biscuits and promised him a pint after work. He had the problem fixed in two shakes of a duck’s tail and with a couple of clicks. He called it routine, we called it witchcraft. With the demo fixed and working, it was time to sit back and wait for feedback. And it came, in dribs and drabs. We fixed the document and the video as we got the feedback and kept uploading the deliverables.
By 2 PM, I was congratulating myself on a smooth finish to the project, when I received the final feedback on the document. Opening it, I immediately saw an ocean of red ink and hit the panic button. Before dialing 911, however, I took a deep breath and a closer look. It turned out that the reviewer had changed some formatting, which accounted for the red splatter on the screen. Worried that I had made a blunder, I checked the Style Guide.
It turned out that I had done exactly what the Style Guide recommended. Perplexed I turned to chat and to my relief, saw that the reviewer was available. A quick conversation revealed that he was unfamiliar with the Style Guide. I breathed a sigh of relief and set about incorporating the relevant feedback.
Off the document went for another review and this time it was accepted without further ado. So was the video.
“A job well done!” said the mail from the Dev Manager. What better way to start a weekend?