Delivering Quality

This is Part 8 of our The Life of a Project Series.

For most technical writers, the goal is not just to deliver an end product, but to deliver one that is of a high quality. And, as we all know, sometimes we have to compromise on quality to meet a deadline.

If this happens, it is important that the decision to compromise be made not by the technical writer, but by the client or, in the case of employees, by the management or documentation manager.

I have had clients tell me that they need the document by a certain time,   and then they will add, “no matter what state it is in.” I have complied because I understand that delivering a perfect document late may result in a lost end-customer, while delivering a less-than perfect document early or on time will save the deal.

In this project, I was reminded of Israel’s yearly reporting of the level of water in the Sea of Galilee. There’s a red line – that’s the level beyond which Israel will not pump water out of the sea. But, with several bad rainy seasons, somehow, Israel developed not just the red line, but the new red line.

This new red line was quite below the first one and closer to the black line which, I believe, is the line below which we physically can’t pump water. So there’s the “we don’t want to pump below,” the “we really shouldn’t pump below”, and the “wow, we just can’t pump below” lines.

During our initial meeting, we confirmed a date on which the client had to deliver the document to their end-customer. This was the black line. Beyond that date, the deal would fall; the customer would be lost. The client needed to deliver the document in both printed and electronic format. We calculated this process would take a few days; and we calculated the review cycle and added more days there. This was our red line – the first one, not the new one.

As the project became more complex, it was clear that we had not been given all the material we needed. The first red line came and went and still we were receiving material. At one point, I received a request to deliver the document by Friday at noon.

I also received a detailed Excel sheet indicating which engineers were responsible for providing each section, and their final deadline for delivering it. I called up the senior sales and engineering contacts and explained that I was not at all sure how I could deliver something to them by Friday noon – when their engineers had to deliver the information to me by the following Sunday. After a bit of a laugh, they said they would call me back.

The engineers were told to move the deadline up to Saturday night at midnight; I was wished a Shabbat shalom (a peaceful Sabbath).

As we continued to put it all together, we were desperately trying for the new red line. We delivered something and while the client was very happy with what we had done, this initial draft also highlighted how much material we were still missing.

We were days away from the black line, working long hours and putting more writers on. The client gave up on the idea of sending the documents via Federal Express and booked a flight for their main engineer. He would fly to the US and meet someone who would take the package and hand deliver it. Our black line was the time he left fro the airport less the amount of time it would take the company to print and burn the copies they needed to deliver.

As we completed sections, we gave it to their engineers to review. We took their comments, thankfully very few, implemented them and returned them. To ensure the best quality we could, we put two writers on for the final push – one was writing and compiling; the other was editing; then back to the first for a final layout and PDF.

I want to believe that we were able to ensure quality and create a well-written, comprehensive document. I know that we met the deadline and I’m pretty sure the engineer slept most of the flight to the States, as our writers crashed here in Israel.

I know that no other company could have done a better job with the schedule and the materials we had and the team of their engineers and our writers was amazing. The dedication that went into this project (and having a perfectionist for the lead writer), ensured the quality. At the same time, a willingness to go above and beyond enabled us to deliver this document just before that black line.

Delivering quality is important. Delivering on time is also an essential requirement. Sometimes,  you can add more resources to ensure the first while meeting the second, and sometimes you can’t. Once again, one of the key factors in delivering quality is the cooperation and interaction between technical writer and engineer. If there was a single lesson to be learned from this project, I would say it was teamwork! More lessons, coming soon.

Stay tuned for Part 9: Wrapping it up and learning for tomorrow.