Results of Writer : Developer question

Subject: Results of Writer : Developer question
From: Phillip Wilkerson <phillipw -at- ALLENSYSGROUP -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 20 Nov 1998 08:09:11 -0500

Here are the results of my recent Writer : Developer ratio
question...I'll let the respondents speak for themselves (last names and
company names deleted). Thanks to all who responded and thanks for the
thought provoking questions.

Thanks, Eric for providing this forum.

I've signed off the list for the holiday week. If you want to ask
questions or contribute, e-mail me at: phillipw -at- asg -dot- com

Phillip C. Wilkerson
Vice President
Technical Publications
Allen Systems Group, Inc.

--- John B. said:
Two jobs ago I worked for a large-ish company. I started with the
company as its lone tech writer and I was employee #30. When I left it
seven years later, we had 500+ employees. We created software and
hardware for the wireless communications industry, as well as providing
engineering services. Over half the staff was on the service side.
Several times during my employment there, I did check the ratio of
writers to software developers. Every time I came up with the same
answer. 1:7.
Coincidentally, where I'm working now we have the same ratio. Two
writers and 14 developers.

--- Dawn S. said:
[We are] is completing a benchmarking study on the ideal size of
departments that started because of the interest in ratios. While I
cannot release the specific information that we found with the
participating companies, I can say that basing department size on a
ratio of developers to technical writers is flawed. It assumes that
there is some correlation of the number of developers to the amount of
documentation required. It may take hundreds of developers to create
very complex code for a very simple product--little documentation
required. It may take the same number of developers to create code for a
much more complex product requiring a huge amount of support.
Even if developers were all producing the same amount of documentation
need, ratios would not work because of efficiency and prioritization
issues. If you have a 16:1 ratio, is that writer working lots of
overtime? If you have a 2:1 ratio, are you meeting all your demands? It
seems that regardless of the ratio we see, everyone says there is more
work to do that they can't get to. A simple ratio isn't going to tell
you an ideal.
Other factors including responsibilities of the department and your
development process are far more important.

---Julie C. said:
We have about 150 employees, 75 of whom are developers. At any given
time, we probably have 10 or so projects that are in development. We
have 4 writers. I'm the documentation manager; we also have one senior
writer and 2 junior writers. I spend almost half my time managing, and
the rest actually *working*. We develop IBM midrange and PC-based
client-server software for various industries. Our writers do it all, or
at least anything the customer will pay for: online help, hardcopy,
web-based docs, training materials and classroom training, CBT, and

---Carene K. said:
At my last company in NYC, we had 4 technical writers for approximately
developers. Now, at [my present company], I am the lone technical writer
for about 30

---Jean F. said:
This is an interesting issue. It seems like it would be easy to compare
figures from companies and come up with some logical ratio to use for
recommending staffing. But there are so many variations, I wonder if
it's possible.
One of the main variations is in the type of work technical writers do
in a company:
-- Do they write specs? technical marketing materials? Web site
material? paper reference and user's guides? online or HTML help or
docs? error messages? internal or customer newsletters?
-- Do they just write, or do they also design, lay out, illustrate,
code, develop templates, coordinate with outside printing or other
services, manage others within the company?
It may be more useful to list all the things your writers currently
do--and then list all the things you think they SHOULD be doing in the
context of your company, which may be different--and then figure out how
many writers it takes to do the items on those two lists. Then you can
show management what you could do with x number of staff, or in what
ways you are limited by the staff you currently have.
I'd be interested to know if JoAnn Hackos has comments or research on
this issue.

---Martha K. said:
Our smallish software company was recently acquired by [name deleted],
which I believe meets your criteria for large software companies.
I don't know about other subgroups or divisions within [company name],
but I can tell you what we have in this "development lab." There are
approximately 60 developers, divided into 5 groups focusing on different
aspects of one product.
There are 5 writers and 1 editor for these groups. The writers are
assigned to the individual development teams, but we also meet
periodically as a team of writers.

---Jim L. said:
We have 150 writers and editors in Tech Pubs
We have 634 assorted developers
This does not count managers.
This does not count QA folk, and perhaps it should, because a large
number of QA folks can speed things up considerably, thus putting a
greater load on the writers.

---Monica B. said:
Try this site:

---Kim E. said:
In our organization, we use a ratio of 2:1 of both developers to
technical communicators (that includes editing and production). Our lab
uses a participatory design process and involves writers at the very
earliest stages of a development project.

---Mark L. said:
I guess we have about sixty developers too. Depends on whether you
include QA. Something under 200 employees all told. Not as many
individual products as you have, though; only about half a dozen. We
have four development groups and three are considered big enough for two
writers; to the fourth a single writer is allocated, and then there's me
the manager. That's a total of eight. At the moment two of the
positions are unstaffed and we're recruiting for them, and there's a
possibility that we may also add a sort of chief cook and bottlewasher
(documentation employee #9) who would report to me rather than to any
development group.

---Leah G.
I cannot speak for ratios in my company as a whole ([name of company];
100,000 employees worldwide), and unfortunately, my little division has
fewer than 200 people (about 55 right now). But, you might find the
stats here interesting nonetheless: 1 TW to 25 developers/conversion

---Bblancha said:
We have about 300 developers and 7 writers.

---Bill S. said:
Well, we're not yet 200... but check back with me in a month - we may be
there by then. ;-)
In all seriousness, we have about 160 employees... about 100 are
programmers and our doc team is a whopping 6. I've consulted with many
Fortune 500's as well... seems to be that most have a programmer to
writer ratio of 10 or more:1.

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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