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The Benefits of Documentation

~ By Ann Drinkwater

Businessman reading a document

As a practitioner and supporter of Agile and Lean, I am a strong believer in doing things for a reason and only those things that add value. So when it comes to documentation, many with basic exposure to Agile may think that the methodology means that project documentation is not created. Instead, it should be more about creating meaningful plans and if that means documentation, then it should also add value and be the proper amount. I do not believe in producing documentation (unless the contract specifically requires certain documents) for the sake of documentation. While many technical individuals balk at the thought and mention of documentation, I personally see some real benefits. Below are my top thoughts on documentation:

1. Determine What Others Need to Know

Think through all aspects of the project, implementation and post launch support and maintenance to determine what those within the direct project team and ancillary teams may need. If the implementation team is not the team supporting the project, there will undoubtedly be a need for some degree of documentation. Carefully analysing and consulting others on what they may need will better ensure your time is well spent.

2. Determine the Proper Method and Style

Once you have a handle on the content and type of documentation needed, you can look at the audience of that material. Does it need to be constructed in a searchable webpage, as a Wiki page or something more formal? The writing style and delivery method should be based on the audience, which is in turn determined by the content of the material.

3. Determine a Process for Updates

This is the hardest part. Keeping current with documentation requires a regimented process. Within our project schedules we should plan for continuous documentation updates and ensure that we take the time for these checkpoints. Once you get in a rhythm with documentation, work hard to keep it going. Restarting this behaviour and activity after a period of inactivity can be a challenge and hard to recover.

4. Consider Other Benefits and Applications

While the first three points focus on providing documentation to support a project or communication with others, the process of documenting is very much a planning exercise. Just going through the process of documenting requires our left brain, analytical hat and thinking through all aspects. This in itself can be very useful. I'd suggest identifying the major unknowns and high risk areas and determine documentation tasks for select portions. This can be helpful in getting the analysis started.

Documentation is a form of communication. Making good decisions about what to document, the method, style and process surrounding documentation is important. Every tasks within our projects requires careful consideration and documentation is no different. In order to be effective, you must have a specific goal and audience for the material.

How are you using, or not using, documentation within your projects?

Ann's professional focus is information technology project and programme management. She is a certified Project Manager (PMP), a certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and a member of the Washington D.C. Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Educationally she holds an MS in Technology Management and a BA in Organisational Leadership and Development.

© Copyright 2005-2010 Ann E. Drinkwater. All Rights Reserved.


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