Assume you are on a road trip and suddenly your car dashboard displays an unfamiliar warning light. It can be either a warning symbol, safety symbol, lighting symbol or an advanced feature symbol. Then comes the panic as you don’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 and take out the owner’s manual. The manual -which not even once you took the time to read before- has become your rescuer, immediate assistant to identify and handle the problem in your car. You feel thankful to the writer and designer of the manual for the knowledge you acquired which got you out from this deep trouble.
USER DOCUMENTATION IS IMPORTANT. It can be either in the form of a user manual, 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 with your washing machine, the setup guide which comes with your exercise machine or the help menu in Google Chrome or Microsoft Office, are all user documentation.
As IT companies that empower enterprises with IT solutions, we should provide documentation to end-users for their ease of use. There can be many stakeholders (product owners, developers, project managers, etc.) attached to a software project, but the success or failure of a product is decided by key users during and after the post- implementation. It’s their feedback and experience that matters the most. They should be comfortable with the functionality, usability and outcome results of the software product that they are using.
According to Wietse Venema, a Dutch programmer, and physicist – “ LACK OF DOCUMENTATION IS BECOMING A PROBLEM FOR ACCEPTANCE”
Therefore, the best way to provide confidence, comfort, and satisfaction in using the product is by providing user documentation as a supporting agent to refer during post implementation live run. Even if the product is excellent and user training is rigorous, in absence of the project implementation team, users will seek help from the user documentation. Hence the documentation prepared for product users should be treated as a replacement of implementation and training team from the minute the project is signed off and users start using the system in a real business scenario.
Furthermore, providing user documentation with the software signifies the level of professionalism of the company or the programmer to support the users. Good documentation not only facilitates in helping users on product usage but also acts as a powerful marketing tool.
The importance of user documentation can be identified as below.
As a user, it’s frustrating when you won’t be able to figure out what’s wrong when you hit a roadblock or a specific functionality in the system. Some people call or email the support team, but most people do like to find documentation online or offline and fix it by themselves rather than calling a support centre. Therefore, having good documentation will help them to feel empowered to use your product and your team can stand out by providing better documentation than users expect.
People do read the documentation but not every single page of it. They will search online or click through a document if they get stuck somewhere when using the product and expect you to offer documentation when they need it.
Similar to your customers, your internal team needs to know about the product as well. An Android developer might not know how to incorporate machine learning, or a Mercedes-Benz designer might not know how to change a tire on a C200. Likewise, you can develop a product for years but still might not know every single functionality of it. Therefore, it’s vital to have product documentation for the reference of your internal team and to help customers solve their issues.
Document your product, then your team will know how to precisely answer each time a customer raises a question. If you neglect, your support team will waste hours each day looking for solutions that should have been documented from the beginning. Further, when everyone is referring to the same content, it ensures consistency in what customers learn from the support team.
Moreover, you can use the product documents in training new recruits to familiarize themselves with the product functionality and the processes involved in, thus reducing the training time. Even the experienced employees can refer to these documents when in doubt. When the functionality of the product is documented, it will help to resume the work easily even when an experienced employee leaves the company.
It would be easy to develop a product feature without discussing it with anyone on the team. But if you document the process of developing, the problems will come to light. Writing documentation beforehand will enable you to spot any issues or bugs that will occur during the actual development. Even though you document after building a product, you will be able to notice the problems, inefficiencies, and bottlenecks in your product. You will quickly see the processes you need to improve or get rid of. Then, it will help you to go back to the workbench and improve overall process quality to deliver a better product to the customers. Even a seemingly flawless system will reveal small imperfections 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 use it without documentation, they will not use it effectively. Therefore, if you are determined to drive your team and users up for success, remember every product needs documentation.
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