Dojo Masters - Collaborative Writing in Distributed Teams
John Hedtke, DoubleTallConsulting
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John Hedtke has worked in high tech for
over 30 years and has written documentation
and books for many leading software
products. John owns and operates Double Tall
Consulting, a company that provides writing,
consulting, and training services to private
and government clients in all fields. He also
runs a blog for people who want to become
authors at http://tradebookauthor.com.
When not otherwise occupied, John plays
the banjo, writes magazine articles, and
writes slogans for a button company. John is a
Fellow of the Society for Technical
Communication and serves on the STC’s
What this presentation covers
• Why you should collaborate
• Why you shouldn’t collaborate
• How to collaborate successfully
• Tools and resources
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Why you should collaborate
• You need an entry point.
• You don’t have the expertise.
• You’ll learn something watching your
• You don’t have the time.
• You don’t have the energy.
• The boss says so!
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Why you shouldn’t collaborate
• If you could do it just as well yourself.
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For whatever reason, you’re going to collaborate on a project.
Here’s how to do it without friction.
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Plan the work
• Build a comprehensive documentation plan!
– Scope and purpose
– Project description and list of deliverables
– Detailed outline
• Use a strong documentation plan format. You
can download a doc plan template here:
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Assign the work
• Attach someone’s name to every task.
– Content sections in the outline
– Creating online help
– …and so on
• Tasks don’t have to be sequential.
• Make sure every task is covered!
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Do the work
• Get writing!
• Have regular meetings to report progress to
• Keep copies of everything.
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Collaborating can lead to incredible friction even under the best
of circumstances. Here are some tips on how to avoid on-the-job
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Mind your boundaries
• Boundary violations are the single biggest
• Don’t get frisky!
– If you think you can do something better, discuss it.
– Don’t be a cowboy.
• Don’t be surprised if someone else gets frisky.
– Work it out.
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Identify a decision-making process
• Figure out who makes final decisions.
• Resolve as many issues up front as possible.
• Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
• Play nice!
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• Announce changes to one and all.
– Group emails
• Be excruciatingly clear.
• Don’t be afraid to swap assignments, but
make sure it’s okay with everyone first.
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Tools and resources
Here are suggestions for a few tools and resources that will help
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Tools for collaborating
• A chat client (even if you’re all together).
– Skype is my fave but there are dozens of others
• Reliable email.
• Safe file-sharing.
– Versioning software (such as Perforce)
– Don’t use Google fileshare or DropBox
• Use the same software throughout.
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Resources for collaborating
• Documentation plan template and info are at
• Book: “Managing Virtual Teams”
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We’re about done. Here are your takeaways.
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Key points to remember
• Plan what you’re going to do.
• Don’t get frisky.
• Keep in touch with each other.
• Play nice.
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Contact me at email@example.com
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Double Tall Consulting
2171 Kingfisher Way
Eugene, OR USA 97401
Feel free to email or write if
you have questions.