In my previous
blog post I've said something about the reasons of documenting software. Now the question is how to do it?
People don't like to write documentation, documentation is often hard to find
and maintain and it is usually obsolete. We need to organize documentation in
such way that it is meaningful, easy to maintain, easy to find and hard to
become obsolete. You can say that right solution is somewhere between full
bureaucracy and anarchy.
Process oriented solution
people believe that with detailed organization and business processes they can
completely controls their business. This approach is something like programming humans that are executed by
business process. In this environment programmer would have to follow exact
documenting process and typically fill big documentation templates with
concrete information. This procedure can guarantee that people will avoid documenting at all costs and it
doesn't guarantee that information populated in templates will be useful
enough. It may give away false impression of fully controlling this vital
activity but in practice it isn't so.
dislike (hate) writing software documentation because it is not interesting and creative. If they are further more crippled
by heavy formal process, programmers will do what ever they can just to finish
that part of work by filling templates with low quality and incomplete
If it is not easy for programmer to find
and update some information he simply won’t do it (if he is not explicitly
asked to do it). As software evolves and knowledge of the real system
increases, documentation becomes obsolete because programmers are not updating
it. After enough time has passed you are faced with massive obsolete documentation that in the end of the day is making
more harm than good because you can never know if information is accurate.
People oriented solution
My opinion is that company Wiki site (e.g.
ScrewTurn Wiki ) is much better solution for knowledge base than bunch of populated
word templates resting on some server's file system. Pages on Wiki site are easier to search, easier to alter and they can automatically
notify all participants when documentation changes. This approach can seam
frightening to management because everyone can alter any document they want. In
general, employees shouldn't be constrained in their work so that they can not make mistake. Not being able to make
mistake means that you aren't doing any creative work and that you should be
replaced with machine. Instead, company should introduce quality checks for
activities that are more likely to introduce an error or where error can be
very expensive. Some dedicated person (e.g. project leader) could inspect all
documentation incremental changes in previous weak and verify them. Bear in
mind that almost all Wikis will automatically store document versions and track
changes. This way person who made mistake can always easily be identified and
document can easily be rolled back to previous version.
After you created infrastructure for easy and fast document manipulation you
still need to create firm climate
(culture) to motivate people to contribute to knowledge base. This is the
only way that firm knowledge will grow and knowledge will be effectively passed
between coworkers. After all, what are knowledge workers
without good knowledge base?
In my next post I will write about what should
be documented and how, so if you are interested hook up to my blog feed and stay tuned.
What are your experiences with writing software documentation?