RE: Are best practices standards?

Subject: RE: Are best practices standards?
From: SteveFJong -at- aol -dot- com
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1999 08:13:53 EDT

I can't believe I missed this thread! My answer to the question "Are best
practices standards?" is: They ought to be.

Some of the questions posed in this discussion are immediately resolved by
changing your perspective. Is consistency good, or is it a drag on our
creativity? Change your perspective to that of a customer, and you instantly
see the value of consistency. (Automobile controls is the best example I've
seen here.)

Are we artists, or factory workers? Sorry, but we're paid by factory owners.
(I worked at a place where the software engineering group called themselves
the Software Factory.) From the perspective of the manager, the function of
standards is to replicate good work. I admit standards can result in work no
better, but they can equally result in work no worse, and to the manager that
has value. In fact, imagine that you're the boss: How much will you value,
come performance-review time, the writer who says, with the deadline
approaching, "I can't be bothered with the dates, I feel *creative*!"? If you
take the "creative" approach, you're darn tootin' you won't be taken
seriously by upper management.

I don't think standards and creativity are mutually exclusive; you just have
to know when to take your shots. Raise your hands: How many of you think
Picasso created cubist art because he didn't understand perspective? How many
of you think James Joyce wrote _Ulysses_ as a stream of consciousness because
he didn't know how to write narratives? Where I work now, we created a
quick-reference card that won an STC award of Distinction (from the Boston
chapter, no less!) and, more importantly, was loved by the clients. that
document went almost instantly from being unique to being a template;
otherwise, that good work would have been lost. the trick is to know when to
do something like that--and to know when to abandon it for something better.

To sum up, I think there are rules, and reasons to break rules. What kind of
person are you?

You don't break the rules.

You break the rules because you don't know them.

You break the rules because you know their limitations.

You break the rules because you refuse to follow them.

I can work with the first type of person. I can teach the second. I enjoy
working with the third (and the first and second can grow into the third).
The last kind... well, I honestly think I could not manage someone who I gave
the style guide to who then did everything different just to crumb up my
keyboard. That's not creativity, it's anarchy.

-- Steve

Steven Jong, Documentation Team Manager ("Typo? What tpyo?")
Lightbridge, Inc., 67 South Bedford St., Burlington, MA 01803 USA
mailto:jong -at- lightbridge -dot- com -dot- nospam 781.359.4902 [voice]
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