Atlassian’s Sarah Maddox has posted her slides from her STC Summit 13 presentation “Doc sprints: The ultimate in collaborative document development”. It’s a useful description of a documentation sprint and its benefits:
We’ve been working on a white paper that looks at how User Assistance can be more effective and developed more effectively when you’re working in an Agile environment. The white paper should be published in the next few weeks, but here’s a sneak peek at one of the issues we discuss: the lack of time available for creating User Assistance.
Agile’s iterative release of products, and sometimes frequent changes to the functionality and the User Interface, can make it difficult to create the user documentation. The Technical Author can end up having to rework content they’ve written, delete sections on functionality that’s no longer part of the product, and add information on features that have been introduced towards the end of the project. If the Technical Author waits until the product has been completed, they can find they have very little time available for writing the user documentation.
Agile programming has grown in popularity and it has led to new challenges for those involved in providing user assistance for those applications. So is it time for technical authors to develop an equivalent method for developing content for these projects? Is it time to develop an “Agile authoring” methodology? Also, if we want to move away from a hand-crafted approach to developing content and towards a more engineering-like approach, what can we learn from the latest techniques being applied in manufacturing?
Such a method needs to complement Agile programming, but it may be a mistake to take Agile programming as the starting point for developing it. The developers of Agile drew upon the principles of Lean manufacturing, and perhaps technical authors should do the same.
In this webinar, we will explain how the principles of Lean manufacturing can be applied to developing and managing content. It’s a way of writing that focuses on maximizing the value to the user and minimizing waste. It involves measuring the processes and value of what has been delivered so that iterative improvements can be made over time.
This webinar will be hosted by the Society for Technical Communication.
A common agile practice is to defer the creation of all deliverable documentation as late as possible, creating them just before you need to actually deliver them…Fundamentally, this strategy is to wait until the information has stabilized before you capture it in documentation.
The reason for this harks back to one of the “three wastes” of the Toyota Production System – the waste of muda. The goal is to eliminate the time spent on activities the customer will never receive or would be willing to pay for.
However, there may be situations where documenting late results in one or both of the two other forms of waste – muri and mura. Muri means overburden – overloading or making things too difficult for certain teams within the production process (and/or for the customer). Mura means unevenness – which can lead to unnecessary waiting time for certain teams within the production process (and/or, again, for the customer).
If the cost of these wastes is greater than the waste of documenting sections that are abandoned at a later stage, then it may make sense to abandon the idea of “document late”. In order to be able to make this judgement, it is essential Technical Authors measure both the value of the documentation (e.g. the productivity of the user, the number of support calls, the number of times it is used) and the cost of producing it. With this data, Technical Authors can then make a stronger case for modifying this practice within Agile projects.
Agile programming has grown in popularity, and it has lead to new challenges for those involved in providing User Assistance for those applications.
So is it time for Technical Authors to develop an equivalent method for developing content for these projects? Is it time to develop an “Agile authoring” methodology?
Such a method needs to complement Agile programming, but it may be a mistake to take Agile programming as the starting point for developing it. The developers of Agile drew upon the principles of Lean manufacturing, and perhaps Technical Authors should do the same.
What would we be likely to see in such a method? Here are some suggestions:
One piece flow. Information is moved through the process in the smallest batches possible. For example, translators and reviewers receive content topic by topic (or chapter by chapter).
Minimalist manuals. Only the information that adds value to the user, or increases their productivity, is included.
Incremental publishing of content (and frequent builds of drafts).
Documentation sprints through collaborative authoring.
Rigorous testing and measurement of the value of the documentation.
“Stop the line”. Authors have the right to stop the development of software if they spot a critical mistake or if they are overburdened with work.
Separation of “look and feel” from content, to enable adaptation to change.
Iterative updates to the content.
Close daily cooperation and communication with the development team.
Removal of “waste”, such as waiting for new information or overload of work.
Buy-in and commitment from all the stakeholders of the value and need for the User Assistance.
What would you envisage an Agile authoring methodology to contain?
Addendum: A further point for the list:
Creating information that reduces “waste” at the user’s end. In Japanese, there are the concepts of go no sen (reacting), sen no sen (a simultaneous response) and sensen no sen (preempting). Writers could aim for sen no sen or ultimately sensen no sen -providing information that preempts problems.
The Content Development team at Cherryleaf has created a a free eBook that provides help and advice on applying Lean principles to User Assistance. This short ebook explains how the principles of Lean manufacturing can be applied to developing software User Assistance and other forms of technical documentation. Lean is the parent/cousin of Agile Development, Extreme Programming and Six Sigma.
The eBook is free; it’s available as a PDF, and in EPUB and Kindle (MOBI) formats.