by Christina Eftekhar
- What: Don't Offshore Me
- When: November 17, 2007
A group of fifteen members and non-members alike joined together on Saturday, November 17th for a series of presentations on the offshoring revolution, staying ahead of the game, and adding value as a technical writer.
The offshoring revolution is not new to many technical writers. Emily Toone, a senior member of the Carolina chapter and CEO of TPS, explained that we have three choices when it comes to offshoring:
- We can stick our heads in the sand and deny it, hoping it will go away,
- We can hope that it will change soon and everything will be back to normal,
- We can accept and embrace globalization and learn how to thrive in the global market.
As CEO of TPS for fifteen years, Emily has watched the offshoring trend while fervently denying it, wishing it away as soon as possible. After bumps in the road and learning from her globalization mistakes, she has finally accepted and embraced offshoring. Emily suggests that technical writers need to rethink, reinvent, and think globally.
If we cannot reinvent ourselves to stay ahead of the game, it is time to get another career. All in all, globalization is a matter of survival, and the three other speakers gave some great tips on how to do just that.
"If we cannot reinvent ourselves to stay ahead of the game, it is time to get another career."
On Second Thought…Building a Relationship with the Offshore TeamAnjela Dukes, Senior Technical Writer at EMC, shared her personal experiences in working with partners offshore in India. From the onset, Anjela faced a number of challenges: offshore partners did not have the same skill sets as onshore partners; they took 84 hours to study the documentation of an old version of the software they were to work on; she did not receive timely responses to project support requests; and there was no direct line of communication with the offshore resource.
Angela changed the way she did business with her offshore partners. She initiated weekly meetings, sent general project background information via email, and established a direct contact with the resource. Also, Anjela did not provide step-by-step instructions, and did not perform any rework (as she had tried in the past, to no avail). The most important change Angela made was the way she treated her offshore partners: instead of seeing them as people to give work to, she saw them as business partners with the same goal in mind. She “treated them the way [she] wanted to be treated,” by reviewing their work, training and mentoring her partners, and developing a symbiotic and professional relationship with them.
"I treated (my offshore team) the way I wanted to be treated."
Did this help?
Yes! The offshore partners began revising their own processes based on feedback and provided positive feedback to onshore partners during the project as well. They received Anjela’s requests for rework well and began submitting items directly to the publication group instead of through Anjela. Finally, the time to prepare a work request was reduced and the quality of their products increased significantly.
Like Emily, Anjela encountered bumps in the road but achieved success by accepting and embracing the offshoring revolution. Anjela worked through the challenges of a different culture, time zone, and business practices to produce high quality work and creating new relationships in her global environment.
What’s in Me for You?Andy Roth, Director of Engineering Services at Tekelec, was given the task of managing a large documentation group. Andy’s presentation, “What’s In Me For You?” provided offshoring experiences and tips from a manager’s perspective.
As we all know, cost is the major business driver for offshoring. Unfortunately in India, technical writing is an immature industry, though slowly getting better as far as quality goes. As Emily and Anjela briefly touched on, there are some cultural differences that managers and onshore partners must be aware of:
Always stay within the chain of command; for example, contact managers first, who will then pass the message down the line.
“Yes” does not mean commitment or understanding. Make sure that offshore partners truly understand project and get a commitment in writing.
Indian workers are trained to focus on tasks, and cannot think outside of what they are told to do (they lack a “big picture” view).
Andy shared some of his experiences in working with Indian partners: it took several months to staff the project; offshore team brought to US for training did not “stick” when they returned home; 50% of products had to be reworked; and after a year it cost the company four times as much to offshore the documentation.
There are several industry drivers for offshoring, two of those being Technical and Management. In the Technical driver, content is king; companies strive to eliminate paper and plastic, localize support and reduce translation costs, and use single souring. In the Management driver, managers try to reduce cost and headcount, keep “low maintenance” employees, own work end-to-end, protect intellectual property, protect from staff churn, make the date, and make processes more consistent and efficient.
Become the obvious choice.
Finally, Andy gave some great tips on adding value as a technical writer.
- Represent total value for the company.
- If we cannot reinvent ourselves to stay ahead of the game, it is time to get another career. Own your work end-to-end: see it through the production lifestyle.
- Bring tools of our trade to the table.
- Continually improve processes.
- Learn new tools to incorporate into your projects.
- Be a “low maintenance” employee”: don’t cause the manager to do extra work.
- Deliver high quality the first time.
- If we cannot reinvent ourselves to stay ahead of the game, it is time to get another career. Be more than “just a writer.”
Through these strategies, you will become the “obvious” choice!
Don’t Offshore MeMichael Harvey, STC Carolina Chapter President and Statistical Writer at SAS, used graphs from Google Trends to show interesting trends in technical writing and technical communication, as well as how the discipline has changed over the years.
Michael mentioned those jobs that are likely to be commoditized are highly based on cost. This also include jobs that are highly repetitive; have small, manageable pieces; are predictable and well-defined; have routine tasks; and proximity to the end customer is unimportant.
"Get out from under the title of 'Technical Writer'."
To preserve value, Michael suggests technical writers should:
- Be the best at what you do
- Be creative and innovative
- Market your accomplishments
- Be a life-long learner
- Develop the skill of working in teams
- Communicate effectively and resolve conflicts
- Show leadership skills
- Reinvent yourself
- Be open to change
- Be close to your customers
- Be involved with an offshore team
- Remember that efficient communication is never routine
- Get out from under the title of Technical Writer
Thanks to all the speakers who shared their experiences and tips for embracing the offshoring revolution.
Christina Eftekhar can be reached at c dot s dot eftekhar at gmail dot com.