Online groups, summer 2009

Scrum in technical communication

Scrum is an iterative incremental process of software development (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCRUM).

An organization is changing to Scrum. The integration of people such as technical communicators who work on many projects and many products is difficult. Do other members use Scrum, and how does it work for them?

One member replied that one development section uses the Scrum method with agile testing. There is no satisfactory method to tell him of the changes, because all the work is based on user stories that have no detailed specifications. (A user story is a requirement that is written in the business language of the user.) He is invited to the sprint reviews, but usually that is too late to meet the release date for the documentation. (A sprint is a period of between two and four weeks, in which development occurs on a set of tasks.) Therefore, he asks the developers and the testers what has changed.

Another member supports two teams in a company that has used Scrum for a few years. The important thing is to attend all the daily meetings and to report problems when they occur. Make sure that the definition of 'done' includes testing and documentation. There is a release sprint before the company ships a product. The technical authors use this time to build the PDF documentation and to complete the release notes. Overall, the member thinks that agile development is good.

One company has used Scrum for six months. The technical authors work on more than one project at once.

Most of the project team works full time on a project. However, the authors work on many projects. To overcome problems, the authors do some rough planning, and because know what work they can postpone or abandon, they have some flexibility to adapt.

The technical authors are positive about Scrum. They feel that they are part of the team. Because user stories are completed one at a time, the authors can spread their work evenly across the project, instead of squeezing most work into a few weeks before the product is released. Although working on many projects is not ideal, it is no less ideal with Scrum than with other methods.

Technical communication on Twitter

There is a new Twitter Group at http://twittgroups.com/group/techcomms.

Tax investigation insurance

One member's accountants sent him a letter about tax investigation insurance. The letter suggested that he should insure, through the accountants, against the professional fees and possible penalties that could occur from an HMRC tax investigation. He thinks that tax investigation insurance is a sensible precaution. However, he thinks that the offer from his accountants is similar to a professional who asks his clients to pay his professional indemnity policy. Therefore, he asked for other opinions.

Some members explained that they'd had visits from the Inland Revenue or from Customs and Excise (now combined as HMRC). The visits took a few hours, the investigators were polite, and there were no problems for the members. The members did not think that insurance for tax investigation visits was necessary.

Other members think that tax investigation insurance is useful. HMRC can investigate you for a long time, even if your accounts are excellent. If they decide you are trying to hide something, they can waste much time and money in an investigation, and fees for professional representation are high. When one member had a VAT inspection, she thought the inspector was disappointed because he found only a 15p error. He was unpleasant, and he implied that because she did not have a standard rate for all her clients, the lower-paying clients made partial cash payments. No accountant can prevent that suspicion.

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