Assume you are on a road trip and suddenly your car dashboard displaysan unfamiliar warning light. It can be either a warning symbol, safety symbol,lighting symbol or an advanced feature symbol. Then comes the panic as youdon’t know whether it is a critical warning that requires immediate attention,or whether you will be able to reach to a mechanic before a vehicle breakdown.
Then, without even realising, you slowly open the glove compartment andtake out the owner’s manual. The manual -which not even once you took the timeto read before- has become your rescuer, immediate assistant to identify andhandle the problem in your car. You feel thankful to the writer and designer ofthe manual for the knowledge you acquired which got you out from this deeptrouble.
USER DOCUMENTATION IS IMPORTANT. It can be either in the form of a usermanual, help menu, step-by-step guide, support portal, video tutorials,traditional tutorials, FAQs or embedded assistance.
The owner’s manual which came with your car, the manual that comes withyour washing machine, the setup guide which comes with your exercise machine orthe help menu in Google Chrome or Microsoft Office, are all user documentation.
As IT companies that empower enterprises with IT solutions, we shouldprovide documentation to end-users for their ease of use. There can be manystakeholders (product owners, developers, project managers, etc.) attached to asoftware project, but the success or failure of a product is decided by keyusers during and after the post- implementation. It’s their feedback andexperience that matters the most. They should be comfortable with thefunctionality, usability and outcome results of the software product that theyare using.
According to Wietse Venema, a Dutch programmer, andphysicist – “ LACK OF DOCUMENTATION IS BECOMING A PROBLEM FOR ACCEPTANCE”
Therefore, the best way to provide confidence, comfort, and satisfactionin using the product is by providing user documentation as a supporting agentto refer during post implementation live run. Even if the product is excellentand user training is rigorous, in absence of the project implementation team,users will seek help from the user documentation. Hence the documentationprepared for product users should be treated as a replacement of implementationand training team from the minute the project is signed off and users start usingthe system in a real business scenario.
Furthermore, providing user documentation with the software signifiesthe level of professionalism of the company or the programmer to support theusers. Good documentation not only facilitates in helping users on productusage but also acts as a powerful marketing tool.
The importance of user documentation can be identified as below.
· Support Customers to Help Themselves
As a user, it’s frustrating when you won’t be able to figure out what’swrong when you hit a roadblock or a specific functionality in the system. Somepeople call or email the support team, but most people do like to finddocumentation online or offline and fix it by themselves rather than calling asupport centre. Therefore, having good documentation will help them to feelempowered to use your product and your team can stand out by providing betterdocumentation than users expect.
People do read the documentation but not every single page of it. Theywill search online or click through a document if they get stuck somewhere whenusing the product and expect you to offer documentation when they need it.
· In Support of Your Own Team
Similar to your customers, your internal team needs to know about theproduct as well. An Android developer might not know how to incorporate machinelearning, or a Mercedes-Benz designer might not know how to change a tire on aC200. Likewise, you can develop a product for years but still might not knowevery single functionality of it. Therefore, it’s vital to have productdocumentation for the reference of your internal team and to help customerssolve their issues.
Document your product, then your team will know how to precisely answereach time a customer raises a question. If you neglect, your support team willwaste hours each day looking for solutions that should have been documentedfrom the beginning. Further, when everyone is referring to the same content, itensures consistency in what customers learn from the support team.
Moreover, you can use the product documents in training new recruits tofamiliarize themselves with the product functionality and the processesinvolved in, thus reducing the training time. Even the experienced employeescan refer to these documents when in doubt. When the functionality of the productis documented, it will help to resume the work easily even when an experiencedemployee leaves the company.
· Improve product quality levels and fixthe chaos
It would be easy to develop a product feature without discussing it withanyone on the team. But if you document the process of developing, the problemswill come to light. Writing documentation beforehand will enable you to spotany issues or bugs that will occur during the actual development. Even thoughyou document after building a product, you will be able to notice the problems,inefficiencies, and bottlenecks in your product. You will quickly see theprocesses you need to improve or get rid of. Then, it will help you to go backto the workbench and improve overall process quality to deliver a betterproduct to the customers. Even a seemingly flawless system will reveal smallimperfections when documenting.
It’s easy to neglect documentation. But however good your software is,without proper documentation, people will not use it. Even though the users useit without documentation, they will not use it effectively. Therefore, if youare determined to drive your team and users up for success, remember everyproduct needs documentation.