The Responsibility Game

See the source imageThe Gomery inquiry investigating the government’s “contracts for donations” scheme is currently one of the most popular reality-TV shows. However, it has at least one unique feature: instead of the various players voting each other off, we the people get to vote them off, and replace them with another group of players who will get to play the exact same game.

One of the buzzwords in this affair is “responsibility”. Everyone is screaming: “Who’s responsible for this heinous crime?” Responsibility is also a very big thing in the business world, and since we as professional technical communicators are part of that world, we need to be concerned about it.

Organizations function well when everyone knows what they are responsible for, and when everything has someone responsible for it. Companies get into trouble when something that should happen does not because no-one thinks they are responsible for it.

As information developers, we are responsible for producing documentation. But how much responsibility should we bear? To answer that question, it’s time to play…

The Responsibility Game
(Lively introduction music)

Announcer: Welcome to The Responsibility Game, with your host, Frank Ferrari. And now, heeeeeeeeeeere’s Frank!!
Frank Ferrari: Thank you. Welcome to this week’s edition of The Responsibility Game, where we answer the question:
Audience: Who’s responsible?!
Frank: Last week, we found out that the government was responsible for all the lousy weather we’ve been having, and for all those socks you lose in the washer. This week, we’re gonna look at something a bit more serious: bad documentation.
Audience: Ooooooo…
Frank: Yes – we’ve all seen it – manuals that don’t make sense, pictures that don’t match up with the instructions, assembly instructions that make you want to kill someone, or at least maim them severely. We’ve all felt the pain, and today we’re gonna doing something about it by finding out…
Audience: Who’s responsible?!
Frank: We’re speaking today with PillowHeads Incorporated, a company that makes software that does…something. We’ll be talking with some of the various workers there, through a live, televised link, starting with Nero, the tech writer. Nero, are you there?
Nero: Yeah, I’m here Frank. Love your show!
Frank: Thanks. OK, Nero, your latest user guide was released, and we’ve spoken to some of the end users, and we’re gonna tell you what they said.
Nero: (nervously) OK… I’m listening…
Frank: The verdict is….they loved it! They said it was the best manual in long time. How do you feel?
Nero: Wow – that’s great. I’m dreamt about this moment ever since I was a fetus…
Frank: Hey, you’re making me all teary-eyed, kid. But what our audience wants to know is…
Audience: Who’s responsible?!
Nero: Well, not to boast or anything, but since I am the tech writer and I wrote it, then obviously I’m responsible for it. I had some help in getting the info I needed, but then I was the one who actually put the thing together, so wouldn’t that make me responsible?
Frank: You can’t argue with such air-tight logic. But let’s hear what others have to say. Let’s talk to one of those people Nero mentioned helped him get the info he needed – Ivan the Programmer, also known as Ivan the Terrible. Ivan, you’ve heard Nero say that he’s responsible for creating this fantastic document – what do you say?
Ivan: Nero good man. Very strong, like bear. But I tell him what he need to know. Me responsible!
Frank: Eloquently stated, Ivan. Now let’s move up the food chain and talk to Nero’s boss, Manfred. Manfred – you’ve just hear that the client loves the new document – we wanna know:
Audience: Who’s responsible?!
Manfred: Nero did a great job in putting that manual together. He worked hard and did what he had to do. But since I was the one who hired him and taught him almost everything he knows, I’d say that ultimately, I’m responsible. If hadn’t hired him, we wouldn’t be talking about this now.
Frank: Good points all around. Let’s keep moving up, shall we? We’re talking next with Manfred’s boss, the VP of the department, Herman. Herman – what are you thoughts? Who’s responsible for this great document?
Herman: Well, I would agree that Nero did a good job. But if we take Manfred’s logic, then I would say I’m responsible, because I hired Manfred, and I only hire the best people – people who are able to in turn, hire more of the best people. Because people are our greatest asset, after our inventory and cash reserves.
Frank: Well, I gotta tell ya – this is the first time I’ve been this undecided about who’s responsible. Everyone is making a solid case. But we’re gonna get to this bottom of this, by going straight to the top. Our last guest is the company president, Bartholomew. Bart – you’ve heard everyone’s opinion. You’re the top guy. Who do you think is responsible for the manual?
Bart: Let me be frank, Frank. I’ve heard a lot of talk today. Everyone wants to take credit, and I can understand that. I feel what everyone’s saying. That’s my weakness – I feel so much sometimes, it hurts. But I founded this company. I created it – it’s my baby. I raised it. I fed it. I taught it to walk and do math. And I simply cannot allow others to take credit for my baby. No one’s going to kidnap my baby. None of these people would be here if I hadn’t given birth to this baby. So, as a parent of this company, I am ultimately responsible for everything my baby does, good and bad.
Frank: Wow. What can I say? I’m speechless. Everyone has made a very compelling argument. There’s just one small problem – this whole episode has been a scam! The truth is: the client HATES the document! So we wanna know:
Audience: Now who is responsible?!
Bart, the president: It’s Herman’s fault – I never should have hired that guy!
Herman, VP: It’s Manfred’s fault – I never should have hired that guy!
Manfred: It’s Nero’s fault – I never should have hired that guy!
Ivan: Nero bad! Bad tech writer! Must kill! Kill tech writer! Kill tech writer!
Bart, Herman, Manfred and Ivan: Kill tech writer! Kill tech writer!
Nero: What the …? Hey, what are you guys doing? Put that thing down! Help! Frank! Help me!!! I need…
Frank: Well, we seemed to be having some technical difficulties….Anyway, I want to thank all our guests for being on the show, and thank our audience for finding out:

Audience: Who’s responsible?!