From a Technical Writer to a Documentation Project Manager

After spending a few good years in technical writing or editing, do you get that feeling that probably it’s time to play in the big league – documentation management maybe? Well, that’s great, and rightfully so, but do you know what a documentation or technical publications manager does? What does it take to succeed in a management role? Is it just about sending a few emails, scheduling a few back-to-back meetings, endlessly reviewing spreadsheets, or breathing down your team members’ necks? It’s time to get some of these myths dispelled and to prep you, aspiring managers, to be prepared for a journey of responsibility and ownership.

If you are looking to get hired / or aspire to shift to a Documentation Manager role, here’s a list of indicators that may help you become a better manager:

  • Scoping: Scope well to manage well. Before taking on a project, scope each deliverable extremely well. Anticipate the assumptions, limitations, and risks associated with the project, and carefully document that in your project charter/scoping document. Review the scope with the stakeholders (internal or external), and then freeze the scope. Do not forget to document the “out of scope” tasks as well.
  • Estimation: To estimate each task or sub tasks that lead to the completion of a deliverable is an art. It requires experience, knowledge, expertise, and strong instincts to know how much effort it takes to finish. Always include a suitable buffer to handle cosmetic changes. Set metrics, success and failure points, and a backup/alternative route.
  • Scheduling: Consider the stakeholder timelines and your internal resourcing capabilities and only then put together a schedule for completing the project. Know which tasks can be done sequentially and which can be done in parallel, thereby using your resources optimally. Also, include a buffer for unforeseen circumstances. Remember, downtime on a project is a cost to your company.
  • Tracking: A great manager once told me – “Give your teams 20% less time to complete a task. That way you track the hours and effort better, and you get the best out of your teams”. Use trackers to ensure that the hours allotted to this project are not overspent. Track the budgets to ensure that your project does not go into the red. Track the output of each team member. This will also help you scope future projects better.
  • Resourcing and Hiring: In India, recruiting is a continuous journey. Ask any manager and they’d probably tell you that hiring the right person for the job is a tedious task. Projects do not wait for your teams to be in place. It’s usually a scramble to find the right resources, but if you know how to hire and how to use the right resource mix, you can manage this extremely well.
  • Managing Expectations: Meet regularly with everyone who has a direct or indirect stake in your project – your clients, upper management, team members, vendors, and so on. Keep reviewing their expectations (which tend to change at times), and ensure that they are met. Engage them in meaningful discussions and future roadmap to ensure the longevity of the project and healthy relationship.
  • Escalating: This does not necessarily go according to plan. Sometimes there is a scope creep or mismatch in expectations, or you are unable to meet a deadline – it happens and most people understand as long as you can communicate it the right way. Knowing when, who, and how to escalate is an art and a good manager needs to master that.
  • Getting the job done (cliché but true): As a manager, you don’t have many excuses to offer, and that’s one of the primary reasons you got hired for this role. So, drop those excuses, roll up your sleeves, get the necessary help, if required, BUT, get the job done. You will probably become an unsung hero during project success parties but you may get all the blame should the project fail to meet its milestones. Regardless, take it in your stride and get the job done.
From a Technical Writer to a Documentation Project Manager

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