Using SharePoint to Manage Tech Comm Projects

There’s a thousand tools you can use for managing tech comm projects: Excel, Visio, MS Project, and so on. The problem with most of these tools, is that you either need to have these files on your PC, or on the network, and the number of files adds up quickly: one (or more) for a schedule, one for deliverables, one for metrics, one for project team members, and so on. If your company invests in SharePoint, I highly recommend checking it out. Basically, it provides a Web interface to your network folders and can eliminate many cumbersome spreadsheets by letting you create customized lists.

Source Control

I’ll start with what I love most about using SharePoint: No need to dig deep into network directories, looking for a oddly named spreadsheet, and hoping it’s the most recent version. You know how it goes: You send out a spreadsheet to your team, one or more people have changes, it floats around email for a while, and suddenly you can’t remember which version is the latest. Source control is the name of the game here. SharePoint can be set up so users must check out a document before editing it. This eliminates multiple versions floating around, and ensures only one person can edit a document at a time. Combined with Word’s Track Changes feature, this makes it easy to see who changed what, and when. SharePoint also allows for version history, so you can always fall back to a previous version if necessary. Try doing that with 10 versions on various PCs.

Flexibility

SharePoint lets you customize libraries, lists, discussions, and page design to whatever suits your needs. In my case, I created lists for tasks (including due dates, priority, assignee, description), project team members (with contact info), notes from team meetings and email streams, and document libraries to store spreadsheets (you can’t always avoid spreadsheets). Once I set up the home page with Web Parts where I wanted, I saved the entire site as a template so I can use it for future projects.

Another thing that makes SharePoint flexible is the ability to open document libraries in Windows Explorer. This takes you directly to the folder you want to view (instead of browsing through a network directory). This also makes it easy to add, delete, or copy files from your SharePoint site, since it works like any other folder on your PC.

Posted in Project Management, Technical Communication

Nice Try Adobe…You’re Getting There

So I’m a little late to the party, but I’m finally trying out RoboHelp 10’s multiscreen layout (HTML5) capability. While I applaud Adobe’s attempt to move into the 21st century, and the output is indeed pretty clean, it just leaves too much manual work for Tech Writers. Read more ›

Posted in Page Layout, Technical Writing

You Think Learning Spanish is Hard?

I often hear people say it’s too hard to learn another language, and even get angry when immigrants or non-native speakers don’t immediately know how to read and write in English. Guess what: English be are is hard to two too! Read more ›

Posted in Technical Communication, Technical Writing

Why WordPress is Good for Technical Communicators

I’ve always had a knack for designing pleasing, user-friendly Web sites using HTML and cascading style sheets. However, basic Web site design only takes you so far. Without knowing some serious Javascript or Flash, or knowing how to create and manage databases, you’re pretty much limited to information-only Web sites. Even creating a contact form involves CGI scripts and a basic understanding of forms. You can have a great idea for a Web site layout, options, and so on, but without the programming knowledge, you’re stuck. Enter WordPress. Read more ›

Posted in Technical Communication, Web Design

What is a Technical Communicator?

As my Web site explains, I am a technical communicator, which by definition means I wear a lot of hats: writer, editor, information architect, Web designer, etc. It’s a lot more than technical writing. In fact, I’d argue that tech writing is just one thing that technical communicators do. Check out STC’s Web page to read more about what technical communicators are and what they do—they sum it up quite nicely. Read more ›

Posted in Technical Communication