Palmer Pearson
Cadence Design Systems, Inc

If you could re-create your staff from scratch, who would you choose? How would you build your team? Picking the right person for each job is critical, of course, but the choices are not necessarily obvious.

Let’s assume including yourself you have a team of ten. The team consists of six writers, one editor, one delivery expert, one innovation guru and you. The first reaction is to have six very senior technical communicators for your writing group who are accomplished in the necessary technology, as well as in their writing skills. They know the product and the industry cold and are recognized within your organization as the dream team. The rest of the department consists exclusively of those listed in the latest edition of Who’s Who in Technical Communication.

I offer for further consideration a different view:

I would want at least one qualified junior writer, an intern that is not only eager, but has the desire to impress and to innovate. This person would be a key member of any team, someone who has to work hard, thereby giving more of an effort to produce quality documentation. The desire is for a writer who has not yet acquired bad habits from a previous organization that may not have valued good written communications skills. This person can excel in any creative environment.

I would add three writers that fall into the 3–5 years of experience category. Experience combined with the passion to continue to grow and try new things is of immense value. They have not, and hopefully will not, experience burn-out or frustration that comes from high expectations of always providing exceptional output.

Add two senior level writers. Their true value is the ability to jump into any critical situation with confidence. A manager’s best friend is someone who is calm, all-knowing, and can deliver. In addition to financial rewards, they respond mostly to well-deserved recognition.

For an editor, I want someone who knows how to work with writers for a common goal. The worst candidates are those who rule with an iron style guide. Dictatorial personalities need not apply. The ideal is a former English professor who is creative, technically competent, and can relate to all temperaments.

This is followed by one delivery expert. They take charge of the production process from the writer to the customer. A lot of knowledge is needed in many disciplines: the writing process, managing nightly builds, knowledge of viewers, search engines, XML, and maintaining excellent relationships with both the quality teams and the manufacturing organization. Patience and people skills are the other key elements to success.

The innovation guru (not a bad title if you could get HR to agree) is the technical communication’s version of the engineering nerd. Someone who may not have the desire or even ability to do anything more than once is the right person for this position. Sometimes called a visionary, they might never actually produce anything tangible. (Remember, this is an exercise in building the best team possible.) Investigation of new tools and processes and seeking new ways to convey ideas in an expedient and useful manner, is what they live for. It is their steady stream of “what ifs” that makes this person so valuable.

This leaves one more person on your team, you. Who do you want to be? Is it important that you understand every detail of your staff’s duties? Must you have all of the answers at all times whenever asked? Do you feel the need to have performed at every level prior to getting to your present position?

If I were hiring someone for my job I would want someone who knows enough to stay out of the way of a creative staff. To be very clear, that does not equate to a lack of involvement. Setting direction, providing guidance and mentorship, often running interference, and conveying status and achievements to higher-ups within your company is part of the job. Of course, knowing the technical “what” and “why” is also mandatory. But micro-managing is a guaranteed method for you to drive creative people out the door. Step back and let them do their jobs.

I would also want someone who is passionate about their chosen field, someone who has plenty of experience, but is always willing to move in new directions. And not to be overlooked, a sense of humor is also a must. To quote Jimmy Buffet, “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

Enjoy your job. In a perfect world…