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I'm a Technical Communicator. Why Project Management?
2014, Q3 (May 25, 2014)
By Larry Kunz, STC Fellow

Larry Kunz
Larry Kunz
I recently finished teaching a section on project management for the Duke Continuing Studies Technical Communication program.

Project management? Why do technical communication students need to know project management?

I tell my students that even if they never create a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel, they should understand something about managing projects — in particular, about managing tech comm projects.

Here's why:

You need to understand all of the steps required to produce technical content, from design (information architecture) to publication. You’ll follow that process, or some variant of it, in almost every project.

Maybe you're “just” the writer on the project team. You still need to understand what the information architect does, to ensure that the content you write fits the architecture. You need to understand what the editors and translators do, to ensure that your content meets their requirements and that they provide feedback that you can use.

And incidentally, you should never ever say “I'm just the writer.”

You need to be able to work on very small teams or even as a “lone writer” — situations that are increasingly common in our profession.

Sometimes you won’t have a choice: on a team without a project manager, you'll be responsible for scheduling and tracking your work.

Finally, you need to be able to assert the value of technical communication. Your client or your boss understands that technical communication must have value, that it must provide a return on the money invested in it. You'd better understand too.

There's nothing like managing projects to give you a business-oriented mindset. You'll quickly see that every work item in the plan should have a value that justifies its cost.

That's why we teach the tech comm students about project management.

Have you applied project-management skills to your work in developing technical content? What have you learned?

Postscript: Thanks to Michael Harvey for describing the information architecture course that he teaches as part of the same program at Duke.

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