How to Manage Your Technical Writing Backlog
If you are a technical writer, I am sure you’ve got an endless backlog. It is sad but so true to life: so many tasks are to be done, and so little time! Even professionals in the sphere of task and time management may suffer from a problem like that. So, let’s figure out how to cope with piling up tasks to increase your company’s productivity.
Why Bother About Backlog?
You might say that having a backlog is inevitable, and there is no need to cope with it right away — one can just let it go. But that’s a huge mistake! What can happen if a technical writer has an unmanageable backlog? — Depression =) But actually not only that…
Unreasonably long tech writer’s backlog leads to:
- Financial losses. Some types of technical documentation indirectly affect a company’s financial performance — for example, docs aimed at customer or employee support. If instructions do not help customers solve their problems, some of them may give up using a product; others will reach out to the support team, increasing the number of tickets. If technical documentation doesn’t help employees maintain and fix a mechanism, a factory may suffer from disruption.
- Legal wrangling. Technical documentation aimed at safety issues is a top priority. If a company fails to provide users with these docs, they won’t be able to use a product safely; in case of injuries, legal actions may take place.
- Inability to achieve goals. Definitely, a company that fails to solve its problems and support its processes will not achieve its goals for the week, month, and year.
- Slow workflow. The longer your backlog is, the more time you need to manage it. But to manage tasks doesn’t mean to do them, unfortunately.
Which Tasks Are Most Important?
All the tasks we get are urgent, as a rule. But are they equally urgent? To tell the truth, they are not. The previous section shows that docs related to financial performance, safety, or legal issues have the highest priority. Yes, it is true. But what else deserves our attention?
- First of all, documentation aimed at supporting the weakest processes and points in a company. Each company has its own soft spots. It can be anything. These are the tasks to do first. If your company copes with these issues, it is going to be a great step forward.
- Updating the most popular documents. Sometimes, technical writers face the following problem: a new release is coming, piles of documents are to be updated, and you have only a couple of days to cope with all that. Is it familiar to you? The best idea is to choose the most popular documents that readers use every day and update them right away. As for the rest of the docs, you can do it step by step after release — it is ok.
- Choose the tasks that have been longest in your backlog. Analyze tasks from your backlog that have been there for a long time. They can be divided into three categories:
— Tasks that have already become irrelevant — if you have not done a task within a long period, it might be irrelevant, and no one needs it anymore. Let’s say the situation might have changed.
— Tasks that can wait a bit longer — these are important tasks, but you can do them in a week or two.
— Tasks that become even more significant — the longer a task like that waits, the more significant it is. It has the highest priority.
How to Keep Your Backlog in Order?
The first thing I recommend is to follow the strategy you’ve chosen. Stick to it every day, and you will see that your backlog is manageable. Of course, unscheduled things may take place, which is inevitable but being systematic will save your backlog from chaos. What else you are to do:
- Not all ideas should be added to your backlog as tasks. Before creating a task, make sure you and your team need it.
- Use components to categorize your tasks. The majority of project management tools allow users to select components for tasks to identify where they belong to: features, bugs, newsletters, onboarding documentation, FAQ, etc. You can create any component you need. They help to filter tasks when you need to check what should be done.
- Use due dates. When you have a due date, you can filter your tasks to see when and what should be done.
- No doubt, you should use a project management tool or a help authoring tool that offers task tracking.
What Project Management Tools to Use?
Project management tools are tools to organize workflow, track progress and goals, collaborate with team members, etc. They help not only to organize the workflow within a team but also to cooperate with other departments. We have a post about that — Tracking Technical Writing Tasks When Working with Other Departments.
Project management tools can be both free and paid. They are good for team and individual work. Here is the list of the most widely used ones:
- LiquidPlanner. One of the most impressive project management tools. It helps to manage and track not only workflow but also resources and staff availability.
- Teamwork. An online platform to ease the pains of managing projects, milestones, and tasks.
- Zoho Projects. Software for project management for those who do not want to spend much.
- Celoxis. A tool that helps to track not only tasks but project budget as well.
- GanttPro. Shows how tasks in your project contribute to the end result.
- Proofhub. An online project management application to organize and track projects and collaborate.
- Redmine. An open-source tool for task tracking with plug-ins for adding specific features.
ClickHelp, as an innovative solution for tech writers, offers task tracking features for users’ convenience. Our report center will give you a bird’s eye view of your or your team’s workflow. You will see the amount of content each author has written, what is to be done, how many topics are to be reviewed, and other data showing project’s readiness. Moreover, topic statuses and email notifications will not let you miss anything.
To successfully manage tech writer’s backlog, one needs to stick to the chosen strategy and, of course, use special tools. But not only that is important. A lot depends on a tech writer’s ability to self-organize, resist procrastination, and be disciplined. But that is another topic for discussion. Check out our post — Personality Characteristics of a Technical Writer.
Good luck with your technical writing!
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Originally published at https://clickhelp.com.