Ascend, naturally!

Rajib is Information Engineering Manager at Avaya India Pvt. Ltd, Pune. He is an active member of the STC Pune chapter for more than a decade. He lives in Pune with his wife and son. He has an active social life and is associated with many socio-cultural organisations in Pune.

Rajib Borkataki

Will you be more successful as a Doc Lead or a Doc Manager? Use the checklists here. Tweet!

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If I were to ask you where would you like to be in the next 3 to 5 years, what would be your answer? Doc Lead, Doc Manager? Is it because you see these roles as a natural progression after spending several years in the field? Do you feel you have a right to grow into these roles? Or is it because you have consciously invested time in getting the knowledge and skills required for these roles?

More often than not, the honest is that you have not consciously thought much about it, but want to grow to those roles in the next few years. Isn't that how most of us plan our career growth anyway? However, shaping your career becomes more effective if you understand the skills required in the role that you aspire for. After you acquire those skills, you will be ready to take the next step in your career, not only in your current organisation but outside as well.

This article provides a brief description of the Doc Lead and Doc Manager profiles. I have also included a checklist of activities that these roles need. Use the checklist to assess where you stand in terms of the skills, and create a development plan to work on your identified improvement areas. Ensure that the plan matches your personality type and inherent skills. Most times, people fail in their roles because they try to fit into a role that is against their inherent skills or nature. Remember, however, that most skills can be developed. If you think that you are already doing some of the activities described in the checklists, use the checklists to assess your comfort and confidence level and to check your alignment to a particular role. The success of this exercise depends on an honest assessment.

Profile: Doc Lead

A Doc Lead is an individual contributor in the technical track. Doc Leads are in charge of one or multiple programs or product lines and are also the single-point-of-contact for the R&D team and other stakeholders for providing status and responding to other documentation related queries. Doc Leads are engaged in the program from the Requirements Analysis phase in the SDLC cycle, and start laying out the design plans to support respective releases of the program. Doc Leads also mentor junior writers by setting the expectations for content development and also by providing the required training. Doc Leads are also change leaders in an organisation, driving process and technology innovations in the team.

Download this checklist

Skill set Do I have it in me?
Technology  Am I passionate about Technology?  
Do I have great technical aptitude?  
Do I possess SME-level knowledge about my products?  
Writing  Do I possess top-notch writing skills (less than 5% grammatical, syntactical, and style guide errors)?  
Do I possess advance-level understanding of the authoring environment and standards?  
Editing and reviewing  When I review content, am I able to spot the grammatical, syntactical, and style guide errors easily?  
Am I able to explain the rules convincingly to my team?  
Project management  Do I have all that is required to deliver the project documentation on schedule?  
Am I a role model in creating and maintaining effective project schedules?  
Do I really enjoy the act of taking status from team members and tracking their project deliverables, and am I able to do this effectively?  
Do I have the ability to prioritize my work and also help my team prioritise their work effectively?  
Leadership  Am I a natural leader? Do team members accept my ideas easily? Do team members like to follow me and look up to me?  
Am I able to motivate my team under any circumstances on a regular basis?  
Am I able to share my opinion and knowledge in a way that uplifts the team, even when I disagree with them?  
Innovation  Have I established myself as a thought leader and able to drive innovation in my team and in the organisation?  
Do I have the foresight regarding the market and technology and upskilling my team to be future-ready?  
Am I able to create an environment that encourages innovation and new ideas in the team?  
Mentoring and approachability  Do I enjoy sharing my knowledge with team members spontaneously?  
Do team members come to me when they have the slightest doubt? Do they consider me approachable enough?  
Am I the go-to-guy for all the issues my team faces?  
Am I able to provide clear directions to my team on a regular basis?  
Am I the natural choice when my team members have any question about any of the following:
  • Technology, product Knowledge
  • Writing skills, grammar, style guide
  • Trainings on product, writing, or tools
  • Tools
  • Processes
Do my team members find me empathetic to their problems?  
Cross-functional collaboration  Am I an expert in collaborating with R&D and other stakeholders for work and gather relevant project or program information in a timely manner?  
Do I have access and understanding of the product or program roadmap and plan my work accordingly?  
Requirement analysis and scoping  Am I good at deciphering information from the requirements docs and doing an effective scoping?  
Am I good at speed reading? Can I scan through many pages in a short time and provide a response?  
Customer advocate  Am I able to think like customers and design information to cater to their needs?  
Am I able to effectively withstand the demands of R&D Managers or other stakeholders to design information their way and convince them about the merits of the current approach?  
Quality champion  Do I always deliver with 90% technical and language quality in the first drafts?  
Do I spot quality issues in my team's work at the first glance?  
Do I drive initiatives regularly to improve the quality of all deliverables?  
Do I ensure that I follow all the processes all the time and encourage my team to do the same?  


Profile: Doc Manager

According to the Dilbert Principle, organisations tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management roles; they do this to limit the amount of damage these people are capable of doing. Based on this principle, being promoted to a Doc Manager's role (middle management) is the first affirmation of one's incompetency, unless of course, you consciously invest in a mechanism to figure out your limitations and work on them to become effective in this role.

A Doc Manager's role is a rare one in the management track. Not many organisations with TW units have a specific Doc Manager role. For the scope of this article, we will consider Doc Manager as someone who leads a technical documentation team, handles hiring, engages in individual development for teams, conducts yearly performance reviews, and is involved in training and upskilling. Even without a formal Doc Manager's title, most of us in Senior Technical Writer or Doc Lead roles end up doing most of these activities.

However, writing and management are two different functions, mostly unrelated to each other. But a TW can add value in a Doc Manager's role because a TW can understand the context better, relate to their team, and help the team perform better. It is the same equation as of a software developer becoming a better R&D Manager for a software development team than one hired from the FMCG sector. But the similarities end there as a manager's role is all about leading a team to meet its goal and developing the expertise of the team members to excel in their performances.

When we talk of technical writers becoming doc managers, it is actually a transition. In the context of the IT world, the transition is not just an 'Upgrade' (change of software to the next version with more features), it is actually a 'Migration' (change of both software and hardware to the next version with more features). That precisely summarises how technical writers should transition into the DM's role.

Download this checklist

Skill set Do I have it in me?
People skills  Am I an absolute "People's person"?  
Do I really enjoy interacting with people and taking part in discussions?  
People management  Am I able to provide the right direction to my team all the time?  
Am I able to connect with the senior and the junior members in the team seamlessly?  
Am I able to understand the strength and weakness of every individual and find out ways to help them grow and keep them motivated?  
Am I good in resolving conflicts? Do my team members leave the discussion feeling they have been heard and walk out with a solution to their satisfaction?  
Empathy Do people come to me naturally with their issues and am I able to listen to them completely without being judgmental?  
Soft skills  Do I command respect from the team? Am I considered a role model by my team members?  
Do I have great interpersonal skills? Do I mingle well with my team members and other stakeholders?  
Do I communicate effectively and clearly with each of my team members, stakeholders, and upper management all the time?  
Am I good at public speaking and conducting myself in the public?  
Am I good at taking trainings and giving presentations?  
Project management  Am I good at multitasking and running with ten different activities efficiently at the same time?  
Do I enjoy tracking project deliverables for multiple team members for multiple projects and still be effective?  
Am I a role model in creating project schedules and following them up?  
Do I have top-notch estimation skills?  
Am I good at numbers and metrics? Do I project data effectively?  
Do I sense problem areas in a project before others and provide mitigations or raise alarms?  
Do I stay composed while handling of multiple responsibilities?  
Resourcing  Am I efficient in understanding the complexity of the project and plan resources effectively to support the project deliverables on schedule and with quality?  
Do I understand the team dynamics? Can I plan resources and form team effectively by hiring the right talent?  
Interviewing and spotting talent  Am I good at scanning piles of CVs and pulling out the best ones?  
Do I have great interviewing and assessment skills?  
Do I have a natural ability to spot talent and nurture them?  
Guardianship and negotiation  Can I effectively advocate my team to the stakeholders?  
Do I often win the battle for my team?  
Do I possess effective negotiation skills and always able to get the best deal for my team?  
Management  Am I good at multiple-level management:
  • Up: Am I comfortable working with the higher management to understand the organisation goals, direction, and then plan actions to align with them?
  • Down: Am I good at working closely with my team to help them perform better, evaluate their progress regularly and remove any road blocks?
  • Sideways: Am I good at working with R&D Managers and other stakeholders to understand the expectations, the project or program roadmap and help my team achieve them?
  • Inward: Am I good at working with my peers in my department and in other departments to achieve results?
  • Outward: Am I good at building a network outside the organisation to keep up with the new trends in the market and prepare my team to be future-ready?
Do I enjoy the dynamics of management and the challenges of meeting the expectations of the leadership?  
Am I good in keeping my team motivated during difficult times and still making sure they are 100% productive?  
Goal setting  Do I have the ability to set department objectives, strategy, and goals?  
Do I have the ability to set smart and measurable goals for the team?  
Am I able to effectively guide the team members on executing and achieving the goals?  
Performance management  Am I able to effectively create a personal development plan for each of my team member and track development through regular one-on-one discussions? Do I enjoy the entire process?  
Am I able to assess the strength and weakness of my team members without being biased?  
Do I enjoy conducting performance reviews and providing comments to my team mates, including being part of difficult conversations?  
Team management  Am I always confident about conducting team meetings and "connecting" with all the attendees during the course of it?  
Am I good at conducting one-on-one discussions with my team? Do they open up easily to me?  
Am I efficient in tracking the days of leave taken by team members, and their office timings?  
Training  Am I able to identify the training requirements for my team and device a good training plan?  
Do I prepare well for all my trainings?  
Do I get open and positive feedback most times for the trainings I conduct?  
Mentoring and approachability  Does my team confide in me about their limitations?  
Am I able to figure out the limitations in each of my team members effortlessly and device a plan to upskill them?  
Does my team value the learnings I impart? Do my mentoring help the team perform at work effectively?  
Feedback  Have I successfully established a system where each team member is forthcoming in sharing their feedback?  
Am I able to take negative feedback in the right spirit (without being vindictive) and work on them?  
Do I often retrospect so that I can come up with a better approach next time?  

As they say, success comes to those who make an effort. And the effort required is to merge performance with potential.

In conclusion, let me emphasise the need to know what it takes to be a good TW first and develop your all-around skills, and not just survive in the job. As you may have realised by now, your core skills as a TW will be the foundation for making a successful career as a Doc Lead or a Doc Manager, or any other similar role in the industry. Fulfilling any of these roles will then come naturally to you, and you will enjoy being in the role as much as your team will appreciate having you at the helm of affairs.


Read Asha Mokashi's views on leadership: No passengers on the battleship.



Ascend, naturally!

Written and narrated by Rajib Borkataki.