Dependencies: The Bane of Efficiency

Students in the Technical Communication program learn how to manage their documentation projects. I’m fond of drawing the parallel between the Software (or Product) Development Life Cycle and the Document Development Life Cycle. They both have the same phases.

The keys to project management of course are to control scope, supervise resources, and manage dependencies. It is this last item, dependencies, that often gives project managers their biggest headaches.

A dependency occurs when one part of the project cannot go ahead without another part providing input or a trigger for it. For example, technical communicators cannot complete documentation on a product unless they have a stable and complete version of the product to work with. Their work is dependent upon something produced by someone else. No matter how efficient they might be, they are brought to a halt quickly when some dependency is not ready.

Because so much of what we do as technical communicators depends upon actions taken by others, we develop skills to ensure others do what we need them to. You might think of us as professional gadflies. We coax, prod, chivvy, encourage, and even annoy those upon whom we are dependent. We relentlessly follow-up; we continually pursue loose ends. We check and double-check. We ask, “Is this ready yet? When will it be ready?” — questions others often don’t want to hear.

Our tactics are not enjoyable but they are vitally necessary. And too frequently, it is the technical communicator who ends up driving the project forward simply by virtue of needing certain things done by specific dates.

If your projects are sluggish, and efficiency is hampered by too many dependencies, get a technical communicator on your team and watch things start to happen.