Matching Outputs to Match Operational Realities

Budget cuts happen, even in non-crisis situations. Fiscal years end, funds are reallocated, and priorities change. Large projects that were going to take weeks suddenly compress into a single week. This could mean changes to scope, format, and even content. That’s reality. The trick as a technical communicator is to match your deliverable(s) to the resources you have on hand.

Why Does This Happen?

Scope changes are part of a technical communicator’s job. A week-long course can suddenly be condensed into a one-day seminar. A video-based report suddenly become a PowerPoint presentation. A half-day training experience can be condensed into a two-page instruction sheet. Or, alternatively, you could face a case of overnight scope creep authorized from above, where a single-page report on one activity suddenly expands to a multi-page report on every project in the organization.

Projects expand or contract for a variety of reasons:

  • Budgets are cut in response to an emergency elsewhere in the organization.
  • Managers change priorities in response to events external to the organization.
  • Some new information in the industry changes the relevance of the original information you were going to present.
  • One manager is reassigned and the new leader has different priorities.

And so forth.

Adjusting to the New Reality

You might think this is just another episode of “bring me a rock.” However, as I noted with a quotation last week, you can light a candle or curse the darkness…it’s better to put your energies toward adjusting your work to the new realities. You can question or argue the “why” later, perhaps at home, out of earshot of the boss if you’re especially irritated. You need to keep the following approaches in mind:

If your scope is expanding:

  • You’ll need to collect more research materials as well as speak with additional subject matter experts.
  • It’s likely that your intended audience has expanded. Ask who else might be consuming your content and what changes might need to be made to meet that larger audience’s understanding of the content.
  • Your intended outcomes are likely to have expanded as well.
  • You’ll need to modify, expand, and get approval for your new outline.
  • You might need to make adjustments to your writing style if all of the above are changing.
  • The format of your deliverable will likely expand, become more expensive, and need to be budgeted for to include additional staffing or materials (the difference between one person composing an email vs. multiple people developing a presentation, handouts, and talking points).

If your scope is contracting:

  • Your audience might have changed as well, likely shrinking as well.
  • Your tone could become more informal, depending on the smaller audience’s positions within the organization and their intended use of the content. (The tone could also become more formal if something that was to be shared more broadly becomes instead an internal memo or a product for the Legal Department to review.)
  • The number of talking points will shrink–depending on the nature of the audience(s) and the intended outcome(s) of the deliverable, you might need to discuss with your customer which points are their priorities.
  • The deliverable format will likely become less expensive (a full video or course suddenly becoming an email).

How to Adjust Your Sails

Obviously these changes become more difficult the closer you are to completing the original assignment. Managers aren’t always thrilled with having to make a rapid course change, either. Changes appearing late in the game increase costs: the bigger the change, the bigger the budget. You might be asked to write up an estimate of how much more time, material, or effort it will require to make the requested changes. You could return a good-faith estimate and be told by your leadership to go ahead and implement the changes anyhow. Again, it’s better to go with the flow than question the decision. (Of course if your scope increases without any change in the deadline, you might need to request additional help.)

Some projects remain the same, some can change for unexpected reasons. As always, by keeping a clear vision of your intended audience; the situation creating the need for the deliverable; and the original intent of the deliverable, you can adjust more quickly to dynamic work circumstances. This is also why it’s important to learn as much as you can about your organization’s content and the people using it. You can do weather this storm–but you’ll have to adjust your sails.


About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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