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The Documentation Consultants

(this story is true. it took place at a previous employer)

The CEO was very proud of the consultants he was bringing in today. For the last week he had been talking about how important "getting our documentation right" is going to be with our new product. These people were going to help us.

My boss and I entered the conference room. The CEO and the two consultants were there. The CEO introduced everyone and then left us to get to work.

They didn't have a big presentation or anything. They told us a verbally about their history. Where they went to school.

We started talking about the project. They said that documentation is important. We said that documentation is important. We had a blast going around the table talking about how important it is to have our documentation properly managed. We were one big documentation management love-fest.

Then they asked what we were looking for.

Not wanting to disappoint the CEO, I explained to them what the CEO had explained to me. I am, after all, Director of IT and that means I follow orders. We want to be able to write our documentation in once central place which would then generate the manual, the on-line help, etc. Heck, it should create input for the software's error message database, marketing material, and god knows what else. We really wanted to "do it right" with documentation.

They smiled. "Wow, that's great! That's exactly what we think companies should do."

"Great!" I replied, "So, is there a software solution you recommend?"

Now at this point, I expected them to say one of two things:

  1. "We have a software solution that will do just that. We built our company around helping people like you deploy it and make you a success."
  2. "Hold your horses, buddy. We're good consultants and good consultants first understand your business needs and requirements. Then we have an array of solutions we can help you select, deploy, and so on."

I hadn't realized that there could be a third thing they might say:

"We were hoping you'd be able to recommend a software package."


Yeah, he actually said that.

And the conversation got worse from there.

And their business cards had addresses on them with unprofessional screen names.

And they rarely returned phone calls and never returned emails (never sent emails either).

Oh, and I forgot to mention an important detail: The "consultants" were the CEO's son and the CEO's son's best buddy.

This was their first consulting gig.

Three weeks later we got a bill for $100,000 and the VP of Operations told the CEO we were cancelling the contract.

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$100k?? That can't be real, can it?

Please tell me that the VP of O. or the CFO had the good sense not to pay the bill.

This story is true. It happened at a previous employer.

I was an analyst designing a custom software solution for the client. My regular team of four programmers (who ranged from very good to freaky scary awesome) were already swamped by the previous project, and my new one had a tight deadline, so the company gave me three new programmers, and I started handing out assignments, bits of design that were ready to get coded up.

I give all three of them a couple screens of UI, hand them the extremely detailed and thorough design spec, and explain which database structures and queries things can tie to and which bits are still in the 'magic happens' cloud, and they go off to do their magic programmer-fu. A week passes, and two of them come back to me with minor questions and to ask for more work. Third guy says nothing. Another week passes, two of them come back to me again for more stuff, third guy says nothing.

Third week, I ask the guy "So, how's that comin'?". He makes noises about how it's coming along.

Fourth week, I 'fired him' off of my team, because near as I can tell, he'd spent a month doing something other than the (at MOST) few days of work I'd given him.

Couldn't actually FIRE him, mind you: he was the son of a senior VP.

As far as I know, he's still there, seven years later, but I think he's been passed to at least ten different teams now.


And those of us who do understand documentation, and who do understand things like structured markup and single-sourcing, and who know how to figure out requirements, and deal with the vocabulary and conceptual clashes that are inevitable in most of these types of projects, etc. etc. ... we can't get jobs.

Obviously the problem is that your parents aren't CEOs :-)

As someone who knows how to do what you company is asking for, and who has encountered too many people like your Consultants posing as competent documentation companies, I'm appalled. It gives us all a bad name.

Has your company found a new group to help?

The company ended up not writing much documentation for the project :-)

That certainly solved the problem.

Always one option to pursue (or not as the case may be!) ;->

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