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Meeting Recap: Setting the Stage for Successful Projects
2007, Q2 (July 29, 2007)
Meeting Recap
What: Setting the Stage for Successful Projects
When: May 15, 2007

Brian Castelli
Brian Castelli

by Anne Jones, Carolina Chapter Senior Member

Bravo to Brian Castelli for his virtuoso performance at the May 15, 2007 meeting of the Technical Editing SIG! Brian’s audience consisted of about 4 people at EMC and another 10 to 12 who connected by web and phone from remote sites.

For 20 years, Brian has been an engineer at EMC who likes to step outside of his role as an engineer in many creative ways. He presented his outline of how to successfully plan and lead a project by using a musical analogy.

Brian pointed out that with most companies now pressed to do more with less, one thing all of us, engineers and writers alike, can do is to “turn up the value (not the volume).” If we work in harmony and keep our eyes and ears open for reusability, we can increase the value we offer to our companies at the same or lower cost.

To prepare to add value, project leaders and team members need to give their attention to
  • Tuning
  • Timbre
  • Tutti
Whether you’re a project leader or a project team member, following these three musical principles can help you perform your job better and demonstrate your value to your company. As a technical writer, even if you’re not formally a member of a project team, you can almost always consider yourself a member of a team that includes the developers, managers, product testers, customer service, and other members of the company you work for.


Project leaders can help their teams tune up by encouraging each member of their project teams to adopt an achieving attitude, serve the customer, collaborate, and improve their performance in their own circle of control.

In tuning, the musicians prepare their respective instruments to play the music. As technical writers, we can tune up by ensuring that we are up-to-date on the latest tools and technology.

The project leaders can also help their teams tune by communicating a vision of what the team is intended to accomplish and why and a strategy of who will contribute and when and how the vision will be accomplished. Project leaders can also assist the tuning by studying the business culture: what are the barriers to and opportunities for implementing the vision?


In musical terms, timbre means the quality or “color” of tone of an instrument or voice. Brian suggested the following timbre strategies for project team members:
  • Build alliances. Remember that people support what they help to create. Encourage other team members (including customers) to help create by:
    • Learning to speak their “language” and framing the problem in terms they’re familiar with.
    • Avoiding noise and hard selling.
    • Acknowledging, celebrating, and building on small victories. Let your victories yield victories for other groups. (Brian gave an example of how a usability group grew from 3 to 18 members in three years due to small victories, such as analyzing where a product would falter and then telling customer service to be prepared for questions in those areas.)

  • Jump start your success:
    • Do your homework.
    • Present your view and let others on the team correct your view. Brian likes to say, “This is my view; let’s work together to correct it.” Allowing others to correct your view is a very effective way to encourage participation.


Tutti is the part of a musical composition where all the performers take part. In leading projects, Brian starts the tutti performance with a Project Kick-off Workshop (PKOW). The goals of a PKOW are to:
  • Position the project with business goals.
  • Identify users and their needs.
  • Explore the alternatives, benefits, and risks (including the risk of not implementing the project). Analyze the competition and develop fall-back and contingency plans.
  • Identify the top ten tasks and the expected outcome of each (keep these at a high level and postpone details until later meetings).
  • Outline what metrics will measure success.
Brian plans for a PKOW to take about 90 minutes. He invites as many people as possible to attend in person and publishes an agenda and preparatory documents in advance, but he stays flexible and can modify to suit varying needs.

After the kick-off meeting, Brian summarizes the results in a “Findings” document, which is a living document that continues to be updated as the project progresses. He includes in this document a “gap analysis” where he looks for goals without tasks and tasks without goals. If any of gaps exist, they are covered at a later meeting.


Although Brian is an engineer and a project manager, many of the concepts that Brian presented are relevant to us technical writers in our everyday work. We can all use these ideas to improve our tuning, timbre, and tutti.

One final “bravo” for Brian: To prepare for addressing our SIG, Brian even researched articles on the STC to learn “our language.” After all the time we technical writers spend trying to understand “engineerese,” don’t you love an engineer who wants to speak the language of a technical writer? Bravo, Brian! We’d love an encore any time!

Anne Jones can be reached at Anne dot Jones at tekelec dot com. Brian Castelli can be reached at castelli_brian at emc dot com. End of article.

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