Documentation is an utmost important skill for everyone, but this particular piece I am writing to cover why it is so important for product builders and how they can be better at it.
What you can consider as a document?
It is an assumption that only the long form formats are to be considered as documents but actually every written form of communication is a document. We all are doing a mistake by just focusing on writing the long forms while not improving at other forms of written communication.
There are many other forms of documentation that encompasses the knowledge transfer like meeting notes, queries, messages shared on slack or other platforms, emails etc but we often forget to value these as we do not consider them as official as a final documentation passed on between teams.
Mannerism for your written communication
Every written communication should have the following elements in order to be considered complete and effective:
- Audience: Who are supposed to read this ? Not every communication is for everyone, if that communication is not meant for everyone, then you should mention that too.
- Backstory: What all past instances have lead to this finding that you are sharing. This helps the reader to understand any other detail which was not communicated to him earlier.
- Clarity: The core of the communication is the message that is to be transferred, it should be clear and precise.
- Priority: If the communication is time based or mission critical, it should be done in an alerting manner to create an urgency. Or if it not that important then also it should be clear.
- References: Attach any important links, people, other docs, that are helpful to understand the current communication.
- Impact: Who are impacted with your message? Who are supposed to be the passive audience of the message and may not have any actionable but still are impacted.
- Atomicity: Your communication should be complete and satisfactory in itself. It should not be dependent on other communication which are not linked to the current ones. It should be easily shareable by others without the worry of incompleteness.
- Medium: Every communication requires a medium that defines the gravity of the communication. It should be an email, a message or a document totally depends on what you are communicating.
- Relevance: The communication should be whole form, and it should not stale or change with time. Either your communication becomes obsolete with time or it remains fresh even when revisited. People should not be required to go back to the past communication to change it.
Tweeting your way to communication
Being stuck in arbitrage of social media, our potential to understand or grasp the information with every minute has become limited. We are only able to understand small paragraphs and when it comes to long form, we tend to lose interest. Not all read books, many read newsletters or blogs but almost everyone likes to read small texts being exchanged on social media as posts, tweets, feed etc. But with the word “Small” it never meant the size, but it is about being succinct.
Becoming a hyper documenter
There are many advantages to becoming hyper documenter and the one that I personally preferred is “offloading your brain”. Documenting things can help you offload your brain and revisit it every time you need. Our brains can only consume, remember and transfer information to an extent and when we do context switching several times (Almost realtime), it becomes harder for us to remember everything. Forgetting critical information can has its own consequences but you also lose your confidence to act and gradually you stop believing in any of the communication you do and others also start to question the completeness of your future communication. Start today and build the habit of documenting things gradually, the tools doesn’t matter, how often also doesn’t matter but ensure to document the important ones.
- Tasks: This is the most easiest and smallest step towards becoming a hyper documenter. This helps you remember the agenda for the day and plan your work.
- Notes : Any notes important for your work, may be some pointers from existing documentation that you may highlight or put in some other document.
- Meeting notes: Conversion of verbal communication to written ones is very important when it comes to your work.
- Queries or understanding: When you work in isolation, always document your queries, assumptions, risks, hints to share or discuss later with teams.
- Projects: Whatever you work on document your project, keep the necessary information ready for you or may be keep a index to reference other information in your project.
- Plans: Writing and execution are connected via plans. Your plans should not be a strategy in your mind but should be documented in a structured manner which is easy for everyone to understand.
- Ideas and objectives: Not every task or project is picked, alot of things are parked for later, but nothing stops you from writing down your ideas and essentially this helps you share them instantly when required. We all love sticky notes right?
- Analysis: Data or reports are also an important form of documentation required in your work. Documenting your analysis reduces the guess work.
- Enablers: Many documents are just used as tools, which do not have any other purpose but just required for enabling people do stuff e.g. tech documents, structure documents, briefings etc. These may require maintenance in order to remain updated always to ensure they solve the purpose.
Technicalities of documenting stuff is something that you can learn gradually, with instances of people not understanding what you wrote or finding it incomplete, you will get the hints and feedback to improve further. But you will know you have become a hyper documenter, when you start to enjoy writing things down and remembering them.