Sunday, October 16, 2011

Absolutely, positively, pointless

For years, employment at FedEx was the technical writer's dream. It was like lifetime employment at the Postal Service, but with self-respect and an aura of glamour. I did a contract stint there in '87, helped edit their Line Haul Ops manuals for an FAA Audit, wrote policies and procedures for their Information and Telecommunications Division, and actually met Fred Smith; I wanted to get on permanently, but that was the year of the stock market crash, and they imposed a hiring freeze.

It's a fine company that enjoys well-deserved success, but like any large corporation, suffers from a large volume of communication that appears to have been written by a nervous mid-level manager, struggling to inflate his words to sound important and with an anxious eye cast over his shoulder at the Vice-President who might be reading it. This morning, a job ad apparently written by one such manager appeared in my e-mail inbox, titled "Project Management Principle." (In this case, it's supposed to be Principal, meaning "the chief person involved.")

It begins by telling me what everyone knows: that FedEx is a dynamic and growing company. It continues with the following glut of pointless and misleading verbiage as to what a project management "Principle" does:
This position is part of the Corporate Initiatives Program Management team. The team supports strategic programs of FedEx Corporation by facilitating and executing on programs that are critical to the long term success of the Corporation. The position supports the implementation of Project Renewal across the operating companies and Services by facilitating various work- streams, creating and implementing departmental program management processes, tools and techniques. Leads projects to enable realization of benefits for the programs, ensures best practices are used, and provides visibility to senior management on the current status of programs. Provides mentoring for the development of those in less senior positions.
Position Information:

Translation: The Corporate Initiatives Program Management Team manages projects, ensuring good results by using best practices and mentoring less-senior employees.

If a member of this team ever joins the ranks of the unemployed and becomes desperate, instead of standing at an interstate ramp with a sign that says "Homeless and hungry, please help, God bless you," it may say something like this:
The bearer of this display is part of a growing constituency of American stakeholders seeking to restore equity and maximize individual well-being by soliciting targeted placement of discrete amounts of capital, with the goal of leveraging such voluntary disbursements to realize enhanced synergies with the market economy and move toward full parity with other stakeholders. Investors are invited to review opportunities in this sector and consider what commitment level will most effectively align their own goals with those of this segment of the economy.

For now, at least, the writer of the job description is still employed, and he finally gets around to saying what this position actually is, and does:
Responsible for assigning security and creating profiles for new users in Primavera P6. Maintaining P6 Global dictionaries and administrating services. Maintaining P6 P6 Documentation, with the assistance of IT Technical writers, including but limited to, Configuration documentation, Oracle services agreement, and External interface documentation. Responsibilities will also include development and adherence to, P6 standard administration guidelines and change control process. Responsible for development and use of reports to assist administration activities. Responsible for verifying data population and interface operation to ensure data integrity, trough reporting and error logging software. Will provide a single point of contact with IT support personnel and a primary point contact to all Renewal Purple Core users.

Translation: sets up users to use a software package called Primavera, assigning passwords, creating user profiles, etc. Works with tech writers to make sure Primavera-related terms are clearly defined and written down somewhere, so they can be explained to anyone who needs to know, and that instructions for using the software are available. Keeps tabs on how many people are using the system. Keeps the system running through (not trough) staying on top of other software that flags errors and problems. Acts as the go-to person for Primavera for the rest of the computer division and key business users.

In other words: it's not a Project Management Principle (or Principal) position at all, or even a tech writing position: it's basically an administrative position of the type that, had computers been more widely used in my dad's day, might have been done by someone who had had 2 years at community college.

And the qualifications for this job include...? You probably know already. "Master's degree preferred." Absolutely, positively, unnecessary.

© Michael Huggins, 2011. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

That reminds me of this passage from Zinsser's classic On Writing Well:

"During the late 1960s the president of a major university wrote a letter to mollify the alumni after a spell of campus unrest. 'You are probably aware,' he began, 'that we have been experiencing very considerable potentially explosive expressions of dissatisfaction on issues only partially related.' He meant that the students had been hassling them about different things. I was far more upset by the president's English than by the students' potentially explosive expressions of dissatisfaction. I would have preferred the presidential approach taken by Franklin D. Roosevelt when he tried to convert into English his own government's memos, such as this blackout order of 1942:

'Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure all Federal buildings and non-Federal buildings occupied by the Federal government during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination.'

'Tell them,' Roosevelt said, 'that in buildings where they have to keep the work going to put something across the windows.'"