Bad business documentation

How bad documentation can destroy your business

Many business owners significantly underestimate the value of documentation. Believe it or not, bad documentation is one of the top reasons why businesses fail. When defining the scope of software development, documentation becomes increasingly essential.

Documentation is the workspace for the entire project, its core so to speak, and the link between the developers and the end-users.

The success of any project and the delivery of its software capabilities become impossible without clear descriptions and accurate documentation.

Our discussion will convey the most frequent mistakes in the documentation that ultimately lead to time loss, chaos, and which eventually leads to project and business failure. This negatively affects both the clients and the contractors.

Mistake № 1: Documentation is an optional addition to the software

Product documentation is often only considered in the final stages in the software development process. Many developers do not think it a necessity and therefore, do not prioritize the need for accurate documentation.

Some of them genuinely believe that documentation is an addition to the product rather than a critical component. In neglecting the preparation of documentation, they become hostages to their erroneous opinion that it is possible to save time and money since the documentation does not affect the overall experience of the software by the end-user.

Correct approach:

In truth, the total cost of documenting large software products can be as high as 20–30% of the entire project workload and it is always recommended that a dedicated specialist be directly responsible for creating the required documentation and keeping it up to date.  

Documentation should be an integral part of all phases of the software development life cycle, from planning to technical support. Following this simple rule will help streamline both the work on the project itself and ensure its subsequent implementation and operation.

Mistake № 2: Client will understand the program without documentation

Clients and developers often see the same program differently. The programmer delves into the specifics of the code, the client, however, expects to see clear and detailed instructions on how the code works. For him, a clearly written document is a guarantee that he will be able to obtain the necessary information and understand and train his staff to work with a new program.

There is an opinion that nobody reads the documentation. This is not true. Any product, except those that are truly simple, are not suitable for use without documentation. Providing a product without documentation can be compared to receiving a board game that includes cards, chips, and dice, but no instructions. Everything is bright, beautiful, and seemingly interesting, but it is useless without clear instructions. 

In the end, the client ends up confused and frustrated. In all likelihood, he will have to call the support service, which is both a waste of time and energy.

Correct approach:

When creating a program, code alone is not enough. Some text should be provided describing various aspects of what the code is aiming to achieve. Such documentation is often included directly in the source code, or it is offered separately to the software.

All of the technical documents that should accompany the development of any software product (technical task, SRS, use cases and testing scenarios, error reports, etc.) form the basis for writing the user manual and administrator manual (if necessary).

The latter ones, although not the most interesting, are vital documents for the client. For convenience, their inclusion can be automated, provided that all Test Cases and Use Cases have been written with due diligence and can be appropriately executed.

Mistake № 3: The main thing is the availability of documentation, the content is secondary

Worse than missing documentation is outdated information. For the user, the documentation is the ultimate truth. He is convinced that everything written there is relevant and correct.

Moreover, errors in the documentation can be seen by the user as an error in the product itself. After all, if the program does not function as described in the document, then its operation is incorrect. If the document is developed poorly, how can the users trust the product or the software developer?

The question of a lack of usability leads the client to form the idea that the developer's business cannot be trusted and trust forms the basis of any business relationship. 

Correct approach:

Timely and consistent description and documentation of the IT infrastructure and changes in it which facilitate the work and proper control of all of its systems. Keeping all data on its functionality up to date is paramount. This, in turn, minimizes the occurrence of frustrating issues during the operation, maintenance, or transfer of further software development to third parties.

Summing up

 The role of documenting at all stages of the software product development life cycle is difficult to overestimate. 

Besides the fact that the flaws in the documentation often lead to failures in the work of the program itself, it also affects the reputation of the developer in the most negative way. After all, a dissatisfied customer will not just be offended silently but instead will hasten to tell the whole world about the irresponsibility and negligence of a development service provider. The platform for their displeasure is likely to be specialized sites, social networks, and forums.

Documentation development costs always need to be considered. On the one hand - the cost of developing, maintaining, and updating documentation. On the other hand, the price of a campaign to restore reputation and trust, strengthen technical support, and correct existing documentation.

Perhaps, on the side of the company developing the software, it is more profitable to include the cost of documentation in the final price of the software product and provide the client with a high-grade quality product. This will ensure the satisfaction of all parties and will contribute to further mutually beneficial cooperation.

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