Technical Writers, win the Agile Challenge! Transform to Agile Writers

The struggle of technical writers or documentation team with Agile scrum is a known fact. Despite being part of the process, very few teams have managed to win the battle vs Agile. The fast-paced quickly evolving Agile is a challenge for all. Just creating a product (PM/Dev) is not enough. End users must know how to use and that brings Technical Writers into the project delivery model. Considering the pain points of technical writers and also the project teams, can a simple switch in approach help technical writers? Simply, transform to Agile Writers.

What is Agile in general!

Here are some key highlights about Agile:

  • Collaborative Approach of cross-functional teams to deliver faster with quality.
  • Iterative development where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration.
  • A methodology that demands teamwork, self-organised approach and ownership.
  • A method where every team is independent yet dependent.
  • SCRUM and KANBAN are the two most popular Agile methodologies.

Pain points of Technical Writers using Agile

  • Requirements keep changing. Difficult to match the pace of cross-functional teams.
  • Multiple rewriting efforts required on the same task. Less output, more effort.
  • Writers do not get their respectable space.
  • 15-minutes of daily scrum call to speak for 30 seconds. Not much of useful information.
  • Planning meetings to regular meetings and even retrospective are more about cross-functional teams. Not useful to writers.
  • Even the sprint-end demo show cases the Dev effort only.
  • Gathering Input is difficult, often possible to get only at the last moment or during the last week.
  • Last week or phase turns very hectic & before that technical writers have not much to do.
  • No detailed reference documentation available to understand requirement.
  • Challenging for value addition, can only meet the basic needs.
  • Doc delivery needs to follow -1 or -2 method vs Sprint plan.

What do cross-functional teams mention about technical writers!

  • Do not attend scrum calls regularly.
  • Do not interact much.
  • Do not play active role in meetings.
  • Do not propose documentation plans with value addition to stakeholders.
  • Do not make effort to understand the product/feature properly, and are only interested in input.
  • Need repeated explanations while teams do not have much time.
  • Many more….

What is the missing link? Is it so challenging or mismatch?

The common pain points of technical writers and other cross-functional teams indicate mismatch of expectations. Both aim to achieve the best for product delivery but have complaints against each other. Instead of digging into who is right or who needs correction or the overall Agile process implementation in an organisation needs a relook, won’t it be better to first look inwards?

DOC IS AS  IMPORTANT AS SOURCE CODE

Every sprint team has four key components: Product Manager, Development resource, QA resource and Technical Writer. Almost every organisation follows this without fail. The role of technical writer is not undervalued. Then, the question to answer is how can technical writers excel in agile and get the respect! The documentation team members are skilled and know their job. When skill is available, process is also followed, then all one needs is to switch to a different approach. Turn into an Agile Writer.

Who is an Agile Writer?

An Agile Writer is not an output of skills that are different from Technical Writer. Its just a technical writer with a new approach.

AAdapts faster to plans
GGo-getter and proactive
IInnovates to be in control
LLearns to think lightweight
EExcels to add value also

Adapts Faster to Plans

The planning meetings or zero scrum are the base of Agile. Teams develop and debate in detail about every action item. An Agile writer would ensure to attend and understand the details. This helps in planning not only the direct tasks but also contemplate about extra to provide customers as value addition.
Some key points:

  • Actively participate in planning meetings.
  • Contribute in making decisions. Discuss about process improvement if required to reduce challenges for the documentation team.
  • Adapt quickly to changing requirements and solutions
  • Plan for Doc Delivery / Role as Tech Writer with the thought about something EXTRA to bring to the table.
  • Take the communicator word in your role seriously and communicate timely and effectively. For example, share plan in time with stakeholders and then keep updating about progress.

Go-Getter – Proactive

In a fast-paced environment, waiting for turn to come never helps. One needs to be where the action happens. Even if understanding technical jargons may get difficult to understand for technical writers with non-technical background, an Agile writer must force self to stay around, listen, grasp, and use the discussion to plan drafts/output.
Some key points:

  • Be proactive, just being active isn’t enough.
  • Be an active team member of project, initiate rather than wait.
  • Proactively 
    • create doc tickets – its your responsibility.
    • understand product / feature requirements.
    • identify the right resources for input (PM/Dev/QA).
  • Actively 
    • participate in scrum calls (not daily if there are multiple sprint calls to attend).
    • sync up separately with Scrum master .
    • interact regularly with cross-functional team members.

Innovate to be in Control

With multiple challenges around, the only way to prove one exists is to redefine existing methods and innovate to be in control, match the pace, and use every opportunity. For example, find ways to be active participant in every meeting. Think beyond not only for doc efforts, but also suggest solutions to other teams also. The moment writers helps other teams and talk in the same language, respect is the automatic outcome. For example, UX improvement and UI messages reviews.

Try to complete the concept and reference part in advance with information from planning meetings and input from cross-functional teams to avoid leaving all work for the last moment when dev completes the related tasks. Ensure awareness about your work with proactive control of your tasks in JIRA (or other models) instead of waiting for others to inform about your tasks.
Some key points:

  • Innovate to create your own method to match the fast-paced Agile.
  • Some phases of a Sprint are less demanding  – use time for value addition.
  • Some phases of sprint are more demanding – plan to not leave all work for then.
  • Add value by not only adding content, but also helping other teams. Collaborate for UI and UX development.
  • Do not document speculative work. Only work on stable output to reduce rewriting effort.

Learn to be lightweight

Agile is all about lesser documentation. In the era of SaaS and Cloud, even customers are keen on solutions that can be achieved with quicker help. While in specific cases, bigger documents cannot be discarded, Agile writer must learn to be lightweight.
Some key points:

  • Agile involves less documentation. Find methods to go lean.
  • Document only when it is required and what is required. 
  • Less focus on big guides, more on lightweight output.
  • Let end users read less and work faster. Get into visual with short videos.
  • Use popular and easy-to-adapt principles of technical documentation. For example, Lean documentation and Minimalism.

Excel with value addition

Agile is not just about doing the expected. Emphasis is always on delivering more with good quality. Documentation also needs to go beyond the regular expected tasks. Apart from the focus on customer satisfaction, make sure to interact closely with project teams also. Agile writer thinks, plans, and adds further value to product. Instead of being asked, makes effort to provide help in advance.
Some key points:

  • Adding value is not just limited to guides/doc output.
  • Proactively interact and actively participate. Close collaboration is the base of Agile.
  • Don’t wait for action to happen. Lead the decision for action.
  • Take ownership and make decisions for contribution from doc team.
  • Deliver with customer focus in mind, do not just think about the epics/stories.

SKY IS THE LIMIT FOR AGILE WRITERS

With proactive approach, ability to be innovative and honest effort to understand the product better and deeper, technical writers can simply turn to Agile writer and win the battle vs Agile. Technical Writers have the opportunity not only to prove they exist but also to excel as one of the key teams for customer satisfaction

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