Sudden Directives

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Question: What do I do when people come to me out of the blue with ad-hoc demands? Do I drop everything and do it? Who are these people and how can I tell what’s really important?

There’s nothing worse than someone who drops out of the sky, insists that some huge task be completed RIGHT NOW or the world will stop turning, and then the person disappears before you can even ask them what’s going on. They act like they’re the only people in the room that matter and they don’t consider the needs or perspectives of other stakeholders. If you obey their commands, you’ll end up with a very short-lived document or a bunch of un-manageable branches. This way lies perdition. Continue reading

Decision Paralysis

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Question: How many drafts do you typically go through, and how do you know when it’s been too many?


Ideally, 6 drafts or fewer. In actuality, it’s often 7-12.

The number of drafts doesn’t depend on the length of the doc, either. I’ve had one-page hardware instruction sheets that went through 17 drafts (due to pop-up stakeholders and differences of opinion amongst people who never talked directly to one another).

If things start to cycle with no end, seek a Higher Power, i.e., your management, or someone’s management. “Decision paralysis” usually means that there’s some dysfunction in the team itself or elsewhere in the organization.

If you’re in a lightweight environment where “drafts and versions don’t matter” then maybe approvals don’t matter, either, and you can try saying that while looking for your next job.

Committee Can’t Make Decisions

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Question: I had a one-hour meeting today with 12 people who all agreed that some compliance standard had to be addressed in the manual, but none of them could tell me how. I read the compliance standard and it’s complete gobbledygook that doesn’t seem to apply at all to the product. I could take a guess and then have them tell me it’s wrong, but what DO I put in the manual?


This is what is known as “committee heat death“, a form of entropy. What worked for me was yelling.

Continue reading

Ask the Problem Lady

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The Problem Lady series started out as an ad-hoc “secret” document to help out my Tech Pubs colleagues when I went out on leave for 2 months. They’d asked me to codify some of my better rants, and gave me a list of common situations. The result will go up in a series of posts. Enjoy!

– Problem Lady