Assumptions create obstacles to free-flowing collaboration. If a project is not advancing as expected, there are probably some hidden assumptions to bring to light. Assumptions can affect anything from the writing mandate to the final output, and all the activity and people in between.
The root of assumptions is expectations—something every project and everyone involved comes ready charged with. Each step in the process can bring more expectations and assumptions and this can either move the project forward or hold it back. Good project managers understand that clarifying and managing expectations and checking for related assumptions will clear the way for writing projects to move forward.
How to clarify expectations
First, it is essential to know what must be accomplished. With Collaborative Writing Law 4, we saw that every writing project has requirements on several levels:
- Content (or customer) requirements
- Team requirements
- Production requirements
Now, you can establish what the expectations for these might be. Looking at these three levels of content, team, and production needs and answer some questions about them. What does the team know about how the document content will be used, who will use it, and what their needs are? What is known about who needs to be on the team to produce the document, how the content will be verified, and how the requirements will be met? Consider production steps, tools, resources, and how you will meet timelines. The need will be great, while resources may be thin, so identify what is important.
A full sense of the writing project focusses all decision making and helps realign everyone when something goes wrong. If specific terminology is required for certain types of readers, then a decision is made to use only that terminology and the style guide is updated to reflect the usage. If a reviewer uses different terminology, the style guide can be provided and the assumptions reconsidered if necessary. A process with project-specific tools such as style guides, glossaries, lists of acronyms and definitions will define quality, assist decision making, and keep everyone on the same page.
Project interdependencies are another big area of expectation/assumption creep. Project leads will want to shed light on the context for the document, key deliverables and dates, information gaps, and coordination needs, especially whenever there is hesitation.
Drop-dead deadlines and milestones are often used to establish time frames. The idea is that the team should work back from them to plan how to meet the requirements. But deadlines don’t automatically become integrated into a process. The content team, the writing team manager and the marketing team must coordinate and adjust expectations on all sides if the project deadlines are to be met.
Be sure to check out the other laws in the 10 Laws of Collaborative Writing.