This is very often a true statement. If it is anything less than 100% accurate, unambiguous and useful you would be better off spending your time on something else*.
Whether it is process, procedure or work instruction guidance for IT staff or “how to” guides for end users, if IT documentation literally cannot be taken as read it is not worth the paper it is written on.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother with IT documentation.
Five reasons why you should do IT documentation
- It underpins continuity when you take on new staff – they can follow your documentation until they know what to do without it.
- It provides a baseline for change – if you know how you did something it is easier to go back to it if you change how you do it and it doesn’t work.
- It can be used to recreate your services quickly and efficiently in the event of a need for disaster recovery – it forms part of your business continuity plan.
- It provides evidence of consistent and repeatable methods – this is a sign of professionalism and is essential for standards certifications such as ISO 9001, ISO 27001 or ISO 20000.
- If your end users can look up how to do something they won’t need to ring your Service Desk and ask them – every contact with a person costs money; documentation you pay for once and reuse as often as you like.
Five common faults with IT documentation
- It is written by people who don’t like writing documentation – it is never going to get the attention it deserves.
- It is too long – if people don’t like writing documentation it is also true that people don’t like reading it.
- It is written by people who already know what to do – it is notoriously difficult to write instructions for others when the steps are already automatic to the author.
- It is written by people who are highly skilled technical or customer service staff – but not necessarily highly skilled at writing documentation. This is no slight, they are different skills.
- It is out of date, or people assume it is out of date - it won’t work if it out of date; it doesn’t matter if it works if people don’t use it because they think it is out of date.
Five ways to improve IT documentation
- Have someone who is to use the documentation write it – they have a vested interest in making sure it is fit for purpose.
- Edit it ruthlessly – aim for it to be absorbed at a glance.
- Have someone who is not the author test it – preferably this should be someone else who doesn’t already know the steps.
- Make images count. Don’t add gratuitous screenshots, they just make documentation longer than it needs to be. If the instructions are correct the screenshots will appear – on screen.
- Link it to change management so that there is a trigger to update it and make sure people know it is kept up to date formally in this way.
If all else fails hire someone skilled in producing documentation. Or don’t bother at all – but then you’d be missing out on the five reasons why you should ….
* Seriously, this could be process improvement so that you gain a clearer idea of what your documentation should say.