As companies and teams struggle to do more with less, I find one key element to that success is documentation. Making it a part of the process (preferably at the right time), then building it, updating it, valuing it. This dynamic task is most dreaded by teams, consultants and managers alike and often labeled “a waste of time” (which usually means it wasn’t completed in the right step of the process). Documentation is not a one-time task, the item created becomes a living piece of work, needing continuous attention and nurture to be valuable and share knowledge.
The most opportune time to begin documentation is before creation. Documentation is a culmination of ideas, which hone into a roadmap and objective. Quality and efficiency are initially established, reducing time and resources on future tasks. Costs will decrease for implementation and development, less mistakes will be made with a clear path defined. Team(s) consensus on direction and results avoids delays later and communicates the project strategy to a broader audience. While this may delay initial development, time spent here saves time and money for many miles down the road.
The least opportune time to create documentation is in crisis. Processes are misunderstood and fragile when touched, maybe even broken. Most contract developers and consultants want to just “build it” and then leave the client in a twilight zone, unable to edit or support what was built. A few years back, I documented a complex and fragile 300+ task SSIS package for a publishing company. Someone else had built it and ran, and those left to support it broke it every time they made changes. It also took over 1/3 of a day to complete daily and they really wanted to see better performance in processing. 2 weeks and almost 100 pages of documentation later, every nook and cranny of the package was exposed, duplications in process, bottlenecks, and inefficiencies identified (some parts of the package process were 8 levels deep). Simple clean up recommendations performance improved the package to run in just under 2 hours and the support team had clear dependency paths defined for cause/effect on future changes. Had this documentation taken place at and during build, the duplications would never have happened, bottlenecks and inefficiencies would have been realized before implementation and eliminated.
Most often documentation is completed after the fact. The long-time owner or SME finally retires, a resource is eliminated, plans to outsource the project are being considered, and brain dumps need to occur to transition. The documents become a learning tool allowing new responsible members to become more productive faster. Documentation consistency is important here, defining the what, when and how clearly and in the same place of each document format. I spent the last 3 months of a contract completing documentation of my 6 year tenure with a client before my contract concluded. I created and updated 100s of pages of documentation about process and procedures I had solely owned for so many of those years. There were technical requirements, dependency matrixes, workflows, and dimensional models (the latter had been created years before and updated over time), offered in design and detail, and in visual and textual format (everyone learns differently and prefers one format over another).
So as your organization or team looks to the future of doing more with less, take a moment to audit your documentation. Look to your most complex and fragile processes first, and then those you need most socialized for support. Assess your current documentation’s state, updates could reduce time and money on maintenance, support and phone calls/emails. Organize documentation into one place, a library to reference, and have the link on hand to share. Small companies should have 100s if not 1000s of pages of documentation around processes and procedures, much larger organizations, well so much more. If you need assistance harnessing the power of documentation for your team, please reach out to us at email@example.com.