Friday, January 23, 2009

This Is What I Do

Blogger's Note: More blather from my publications management class. But if you've ever wondered what I do at work, here's what I can tell you without having to explain myself to my superiors.

I apologize I haven't been as active on the ethertalk as the rest of you this week, but, ironically, I've been hip deep in the publication process here at work. I'll walk you through what we do here at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex when it comes to preparing documents for publication, publishing said documents:

First of all, a rumor starts that changes to currently published documents will be needed to meet a new milestone, a change in requirements or a new approach to doing the work we do. Sometimes the rumors take weeks to solidify, other times they become fact in a matter of hours. For this last batch of documents, things went from a rumor on Thursday to actual fact on the following Monday.

Once the rumored changes become actual changes, our writing group meets with management and the subject matter experts driving the changes. The SMEs bring to the meeting what's called a Form-579, on which they've outlined (sometimes in specific, other times in general) what changes need to be made to documents, training programs and postings. As a group, we go through the form, filling in detail when necessary, asking questions and getting clarification. This is the most important step, as a well-detailed 579 helps us in the writing group know exactly what has to be done. It's a way of setting expectations with the SMEs and management before the actual writing begins. The 579 also becomes a milestone document, on which the entire team tracks what work has been completed and what needs to be done. The form is updated throughout the process (we'll see it again).

Once the 579 is ready, we incorporate the changes into the documents. They're then sent out for review by a wide variety of SMEs, who suggest other improvements. Once the review process is done, several things happen, depending on the type of document:

  1. Documents that are used to conduct work are sent out in the field to be “validated” by operations personnel – our principal audience. They walk through the entire document, making sure that the old portions still work and that the new information is correct from an operational standpoint and clearly communicates the sometimes arcane world of (in this case) nuclear criticality safety (a criticality, in our case, is what happens if enough waste is collected in one spot to start nuclear fission; we absolutely do not want this to happen). Any significant changes proposed by the operators have to be approved by the original reviewers.

  2. At the same time, these documents are given to the training department, which works on (obviously) training programs to help all the operators become familiar with the new or changed process.

  3. Non-operations documents kind of idle at this point, waiting for the validation process to be completed.

  4. Once validation is done, all documents go to the nuclear safety group, which prepares a report on the changes, ensuring the changes keep our processes within the bounds contained in the overall safety report, which is monitored by the Department of Energy. They will on occasion ask for additional changes or clarifications, which, again have to be reviewed and approved by the original reviewers.

  5. Once the nuclear safety group finishes its report, it is reviewed and signed by management, along with the changed documents. The document owners, at this point, can also suggest additional changes, and, if they are significant, the entire process starts over again.

  6. At this point, an independent reviewer takes the documents and reviews them against the 579 form, to make sure all the changes outlined on the form are accounted for in the documents.

  7. Once the documents are approved, they're sent to the publications group, which reviews them from a records standpoint to make sure they meet company requirements. They're then published.

Obviously, there are many instances in our process where the reviewers can suggest changes. If we're on a tight deadline, this can cause trouble. So throughout the process, it's the writing group's job – with one or two SMEs – to anticipate what kinds of questions, changes or clarifications the other reviewers might want. The better we anticipate these changes, the easier time we have of meeting deadlines, because the chance of last-minute changes is lessened. In order to make this kind of anticipation work, we spend a lot of time making sure we know our SMEs and the others involved in the process, so we can know what kinds of things they think about, how they think, and what their pet concerns may be. The longer I've worked here, the easier this has become simply because I've become familiar with what these experts expect in a document. I've been able to go from significant last-minute changes to changes (they always come) that are much simpler to get approved – often, after a half hour of phone calls, the work is done. On significant changes, deadlines can be blown by a week or more.

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