Monday, July 21, 2008

Panel: Communication Strategies of Successful Virtual Teams

This was a panel, and I really enjoyed it. A fair amount of the focus (naturally?) was about inter-cultural communication between American workers and colleagues in Asia and India. A little bit on relations with Europe, but I guess at the moment with the rise of technology markets in China, India, and other areas in Asia, these are the most important areas for inter-cultural communications right now, and may be less understood for working relationships than European cultures.
Some points:
  • Distance logistics - face time is incredibly valuable. Plan to do things that are more valuable during face time. Don't do stuff that can be done on the phone.
  • You might start with broad cultural stereotypes, but alter your interactions as you actually know people. Resist the human impulse to blame stupidity.
  • When you are thinking "Whaaatt????!!!???", say "Help me to understand ..."
  • Be precise and clarify expectations - what does "I'll have that soon" mean?
  • Consider getting a "culture coach" to help you with language and cultural differences.
  • When editing, focus on language/grammar issues, not the person (that rule goes for any kind of editing!)
  • Put SLAs to projects if performance has been an issue.
  • Some voice-to-voice contact is needed every week.
  • Be aware that as technical communicators, your vocabulary can be more extensive that other native English speakers, let alone foreign or second-language speakers

The panellists were: Lisa R. Pappas, Andrea Ames, Jan Pejovic, Geoff Hart.

STC Opening Keynote: Howard Rheingold

I only made a few notes in this session. Howard seemed impressed with himself.

He discussed that people get things done due to biology/competition - the strongest wins. He asked whether the threshold for collective action has been lowered? That is something to ponder, particularly as his only mention of mass technology-inspired convergence in Australia was the racially-motivated attacks in Sydney a couple of years ago (my ears always prick up if anything to do with Australia is mentioned, of course). I was also intrigued that while Finland and I think Japan were mentioned as early adopters of SMS/texting technology, Australia wasn't. I remember reading a few years ago that texting was far more prevalent in Aus than in the US at that time, it has possibly changed now. I found it curious because I remember sitting in my WEP classes at UQ in 2001 and one of my fellow students was lamenting text speak in younger students/undergrads and that the language of txtng would mean these students/young people wouldn't be able to spell properly (or wouldn't care to?) and that would create literacy problems in the future. Enough "he didn't mention Aus as early adopters" whining. :)

Rheingold said that literacy is learning the secrets of encoding and decoding language.

We shouldn't be keeping up with technologies, we should be keeping up with the literacies.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

STC Technical Communication Summit: Opening Panel

The panel was: Andrea Ames, Jack Molisani, Bogo Vatovec, Barbara Giammoma, Paula Berger

The main snippets/sound bites I picked up include:
Think More. Write Less.
Excuse me. What you’re designing will take a lot of words to explain. Can we please re-think it?
Installation is not a user goal.
(All from Andrea, so she is my sound bite Queen of that panel)

The main topics discussed included focussing on your company's business problems and what exactly you are trying to solve for them as you develop doco/information deliverables, is the doco you're creating even needed, professionalism, ownership of UI, gaining skills, and thinking beyond tech comm skills in developing your career.

Potentially controversial comment of the session was from Bogo, who said that our primary goal should be to get rid of documentation, and dissolve the tech pubs department. We should be reducing and making our doco obsolete.
That's an interesting thought to ponder.

Another big emphasis I noted throughout the conference, was the focus on solving business problems for your company, rather than "you have to develop this kind of user guide to be a good tech writer". Change the focus to that of your business, rather than the business of doing work.

Tech comm outsourcing was discussed (hm, I don't recall though if the "o" word was used), and Andrea suggested that we all have the responsibility for building the capability for good, high quality tech comm in emerging markets, that don't have the history of tech comm that the US does. It seems with companies starting to outsource tech comm work, roles of technical communicators in home office of those companies will change, perhaps to a more strategic role? An editing role? SME for your company/your product/your processes?

I really enjoyed the session, and took a number of notes. It was rather fun that they hadn't rehearsed earlier, and it was a great way to start the conference. It fired up my mind, had me thinking about some different angles to tech comm, and made me keen to get into the sessions and talk to some of my colleagues. So I headed off for a fun night with some new and old mates from earlier conferences! :)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New Tech Comm blog

I've been meaning for some time to set up a work/profession-related blog, where I can ponder and muse on tech comm topics. Here it is.