November Program Meeting: “Agile Technical Writing”

Jack DeLand explains Agile

Written by Susan Fisher

Agile is not your father’s (or mother’s) tech writing. It’s all about working with small chunks of content, being continually iterative, and understanding that it’s never really “done.”

STC-SM member Jack DeLand, a Certified Scrum Master and Agile practitioner, led the audience on a tour of the Agile development process and explained how technical writing fits into it. Most commonly used in computer software and systems development, Agile can be used with other types of development as well.

Traditional Development vs. Agile Development

In the traditional development process, comprehensive requirements and design specifications are created at the front end of a project. The entire product is then built and finally tested — followed by product-wide bug diagnosis and repair.

The Agile methodology is essentially about iterative, incremental development. Small functional chunks of the product are defined, designed, developed, tested, revised, and tested again until they are working properly. Then, these small chunks are combined into larger functional pieces using the same approach, until the product is complete. Development is a collaborative effort by cross-functional teams.

Flexible design, rapid prototyping, and quick adaptation to changing needs are hallmarks of the methodology. User input and usability testing are woven throughout the process.

What Does It Mean for the Tech Writer?

Instead of joining the project near the end, as is typical with traditional development, the tech writer on an Agile project is a member of the cross-functional team from the beginning. As such, the writer can play a key role in user needs analysis, design, usability testing, and the continual improvement of the product.

On the other side of the coin, the writer has to be comfortable with ambiguity, writing in fragments, innumerable versions of the documentation, and the reality that the product will continue to change until the end of the project.

It’s not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are worth the effort — and best practices have been, and continue to be, identified.

More Information

To learn more, Jack recommended starting with “Agile Technical Documentation” by Jean-Luc Mazet (http://writersua.com/articles/Agile_doc/index.html).

He also suggested visiting these LinkedIn groups:

  • ŸAgile Technical Writers
  • ŸTechnical Writers in an Agile Environment

Agile Technical Writing Program on November 14

This presentation by Jack DeLand, a Certified Scrum Master and Agile practitioner, will take you through the roots of Agile technical writing, describe some of its common problems and pitfalls (such as scheduling and working to extremely small time boxes), and end with some real-life practice of the Scrum experience. By the end of the evening, you’ll be a practitioner, too!

Where: LTU, 21000 West Ten Mile Road, Southfield, Michigan, room C406, which is also known as the Welcome Center, in the Alfred A. Taubman Student Services Center in the middle of campus.

When: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 from 6:45 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Cost: Members: $5
Non-members: $10
Students: Free

Please register for this event.

September 22 2012 Program Meeting

Written by Thomas Glennan

Photo of sorted cards bundled to turn in
Sorted cards ready to be turned in

Most STC/SM program meetings provide the opportunity to learn about new technologies, skills, or applications in the field of technical and professional communication. At the most recent meeting, however, held September 22 at Lawrence Technological University (LTU), attendees not only learned about some of the principles and concepts behind effective web design; they also participated in a workshop that would contribute to the actual redesign and improvement of the chapter’s own web site. And the chapter gained additional insight and feedback into what information and features potential web site users might want and need from the chapter. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning for all involved.

The presentation/workshop was presented by Ms. Pamela Finger, a graduate student in LTU’s Master of Science in Technical and Professional Communication (MSTPC) program, and Ms. Pat Gomez Martz, STC/SM chapter webmaster and Pamela’s practicum advisor at LTU. The meeting/workshop began with a brief review of the design and content of the previous web site. The elements of the web site needing attention or improvement were reviewed, including the lack of a central, focused format; its cluttered appearance and layout; and the use of tables in its construction. Pat then discussed the cosmetic and structural changes that have been made to date, many of which were enabled by the CSS stylesheet in the new web site. Not only have these changes improved the usability and navigability of the web site, but they have reduced its size by 87% as well, reducing its cost and complexity.

Before moving on to a discussion of additional changes and revisions to improve the web site further, the meeting attendees participated in a couple of small group activities. These included a questionnaire on the usability and features of the previous web site, and an exercise for grouping or organizing potential website topics or categories in a format that would be logical and user friendly. This data will be compiled and analyzed by Pamela and Pat as they continue their research and investigation into additional chapter web site enhancements, in conjunction with Pamela’s practicum on this topic.

The meeting then transitioned into a group review and evaluation of the web site changes that have been made to date, and their effectiveness and appeal to the meeting participants. Discussion focused on a variety of the considerations and challenges that must be considered when developing a web site and blog, including the desirability of search windows, how to design for mobile applications, how to manage responses to material posted on the blog, and the metrics for measuring blog traffic. Time was also spent with a live, online review of the web sites and blogs maintained by other STC chapters.

These survey and exercise results, along with the discussion and suggestions from the workshop, will now be used by Pamela and Pat to make recommendations to the Southeast Michigan chapter for further improvements to the web site and blog. Will the feedback and suggestions from this workshop and everyone’s hard work pay off? Keep an eye on this web site, and the changes to come, to decide for yourself.

Usability Research Program on September 22 to Improve STC/SM Website

Pam Finger, Master of Science candidate in Technical and Professional Communication at Lawrence Technological University, is researching some issues of information architecture in an effort to make this website more useful and the information more findable. Pam is working on her practicum with STC/SM’s new webmaster and LTU adjunct faculty member, Pat Martz.

There are three competing, and possibly conflicting, needs:

  • the users’ needs for findable information on a usable site
  • the volunteer STCS/SM webmaster’s need for a shallow learning curve and an easy-to-maintain site
  • STC/SM’s need for clearly identifiable branding

To that end, Pam will be leading a program on usability with a series of qualitative research exercises to determine what users want and need.

We need guinea pigs. Be one of those users! Join us in this opportunity to see what this type of research is like from the participants’ side of the table and to help us produce a website more responsive to your needs.

Particulars

  • Date: Saturday, September 22, 2012
  • Time: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Place: LTU, 21000 West Ten Mile Road, Southfield, Michigan, the Taubman Student Center’s Welcome Center, room C406
  • Price: FREE! We will ply you with liquid refreshments and edible goodies in gratitude for your participation

Please register to ensure enough coffee and edible goodies.