Documentation Strategy Basics for Boosting Productivity Across Teams

April 29, 2024
image shows people developing a documentation strategy

Planning a documentation strategy to keep your content updated with the latest information is essential in the ever-changing fields of product development and technical documentation. Picture a situation in which your product documentation stays up-to-date, continuously meeting the ever-evolving regulatory standards and specifications, without the need for laborious manual updates.

Imagine further that this documentation is not only up-to-date, but also perfectly designed to meet the diverse needs of everyone involved—from developers and product managers to end-users and compliance auditors. This is not just a daydream for the distant future; it’s a reachable goal with a carefully planned documentation strategy.

To bring this vision to life, your strategy must include a variety of essential elements:

  • Automated Updates: Make use of tools that automatically update documents whenever the original information is modified. This can be achieved by connecting your documentation tools with other systems like a CCMS, guaranteeing that modifications in one set of data are applied to all related documentation.
  • Modular Content: Utilize a modular strategy for documentation, dividing information into smaller, reusable components that can be revised separately. This not only simplifies the process of updating, but also ensures consistency across numerous documents without extra effort.
  • Version Control: Implement a robust version control system that tracks changes to documents and allows you to revert to previous versions if needed. This is crucial for maintaining the integrity of your documentation over time and provides a clear audit trail that is especially important in highly regulated environments.
  • Automated Publishing Tools: Find a system that simplifies the process of converting documents into various formats and automatically distributing them on multiple platforms.
  • Continuous Training: Keep your team’s skills sharp with ongoing training in the latest documentation practices and tools.

As new technologies and standards emerge, your strategy should evolve, and your team should grow their capabilities accordingly.

Incorporating these components into your documentation plan results in a flexible system that not only stays current with your product’s development, but also adjusts to the evolving industry norms and user needs. Adopting this forward-thinking approach to managing documentation can save your company resources, minimize mistakes, and enhance ‌overall user satisfaction, making your documentation an asset rather than an obstacle.

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The importance of a comprehensive documentation strategy

In the realm of business operations, where complexity is prevalent, the importance of implementing a strong documentation strategy cannot be overstated. It acts as the solid foundation for smooth operations, effective communication, and successful troubleshooting. From technical manuals to product documentation to help centers, documentation strategy permeates every facet of an organization’s operations, ensuring clarity, consistency, and compliance.

At the heart of any successful enterprise lies its ability to articulate and spread information effectively and accurately. This is where a well-crafted documentation strategy steps in, serving as a guiding light amidst the chaos of modern workflows. By establishing standardized processes for creating, organizing, and maintaining documentation, businesses can navigate intricate systems with confidence and clarity. Whether it’s onboarding new employees, troubleshooting technical issues, or complying with industry regulations, a robust documentation strategy lays the groundwork for success.

Moreover, a documentation strategy is not merely a static set of guidelines but a dynamic framework that evolves alongside the organization it serves. As technologies advance and business landscapes shift, documentation must adapt to meet new challenges and seize emerging opportunities. Flexibility, therefore, becomes a cornerstone of any effective strategy, enabling businesses to stay agile in the face of change. By embracing innovation and leveraging cutting-edge tools, such as a CCMS, companies can future-proof their operations and ensure scalability in the long run.

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How to develop your documentation strategy

Taking the first steps towards implementing a documentation strategy may seem overwhelming, but don’t worry. With a carefully planned approach, you can pave the path to success and enjoy the advantages of smooth and effective documentation. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you navigate every step of the way:

Start with defining your objectives

The best way to start is by clearly outlining the goals and objectives of your documentation strategy. What are you hoping to achieve? Clearly stated goals will act as the guiding principles during the implementation process, whether it involves enhancing internal operations, improving customer service, or maintaining regulatory compliance.

In addition, well-defined goals not only provide direction but also serve as a benchmark for measuring the success of your documentation strategy over time. By establishing clear objectives, you can track progress, identify areas for improvement, and demonstrate the tangible benefits of your documentation efforts to key stakeholders. Whether it’s reducing support tickets, increasing customer satisfaction, or achieving faster product updates, articulating specific goals ensures that your documentation strategy remains aligned with the objectives of your organization. In turn, this will drive meaningful results and deliver measurable value.

Assess the current state of your documentation process

Before setting a plan into motion, it’s important to evaluate the current way you handle documentation. What processes are currently in place? What tools are being used? Identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. This assessment will provide valuable insights into the gaps that need to be addressed and opportunities for enhancement.

For example, many companies writing software or product documentation make the mistake of focusing solely on document creation without considering the entire lifecycle of the documentation process. The use of separate tools and processes, like email chains, shared folders, or standalone authoring software, can result in problems with managing versions, redundant content, and ineffective collaboration. The lack of a cohesive method not only impairs efficiency, but also raises the possibility of mistakes and discrepancies in documentation.

One instance of this occurred in a company working with manufacturing documentation. As the company expanded and their needs became more complex, the system that was initially established for their product documentation proved to be inadequate. Due to the outdated system and lack of focus on integrations to help customer needs, they were forced to handle a significant amount of customization on their own, requiring extra time and effort.

Though they had a simple component content management system at the time, they needed to upgrade to a more modern and complex CCMS that matched their growing needs, including a classification system for their external knowledge base, integration with translation tools, and the capability to distribute content across multiple platforms within one system. By consolidating these needs into a modern CCMS, the company no longer had to worry about redundant information or challenges in finding relevant content. As a result, their documentation became more uniform and easily updatable.

To follow the example of the improvements above, it’s best to perform a comprehensive evaluation of your existing procedures. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you identify any deficiencies and blockages in your documentation process?
  • Can any manual duties be replaced with automation?
  • Is there potential to improve team collaboration and communication?

By recognizing these problem areas, you can establish a foundation for integrating a more unified and effective documentation approach.

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Develop a Framework

Now that you have established your goals and have a solid grasp of your current situation, it is time to create a thorough plan for your documentation strategy. This entails setting standards and establishing guidelines for how documents will be created, organized, and updated. Consider elements like version control and collaboration tools to ensure a smooth and effective workflow.

Deciding whether your documentation needs version control is a critical step in crafting an effective documentation strategy. Version control is essential for managing the evolution of documents over time, tracking changes made by multiple contributors, and ensuring that the latest version is always accessible and accurate. Consider the nature of your documentation and the level of collaboration involved. If your documentation undergoes frequent updates or revisions, especially by multiple team members or across different departments, version control becomes indispensable. Similarly, if your documentation is subject to regulatory requirements or quality standards that mandate traceability and auditability of changes, version control is essential for compliance.

It’s also important to weigh factors such as ‌whether there is a need for the reuse of content as well as the frequency of updates. Do you have recurring elements to your documentation, such as instructions or admonitions? If you are producing documentation with versioning, as mentioned above, you may need to reuse common components among various versions. With content reuse, you also eliminate the need to recreate from scratch, plus you keep the same terminology and consistency throughout your publications.

Don’t forget to take into account the number of people on your team or any SMEs (subject matter experts) that may be contributing to your content. Make sure the system you implement has good collaboration features such as real-time editing, commenting, and an audit trail. For example, a CCMS enables teams and contributors to work together efficiently, regardless of geographical location since it is cloud-based. This fosters a collaborative environment that enhances your productivity and quality in documentation projects.

Implement an automated publishing process

The importance of publishing in your documentation strategy cannot be overstated, as the manner in which documentation is published and the accessibility of this information are essential to its effectiveness. The diversity of user preferences and the variety of devices used to access information necessitate a flexible approach to publishing. Many companies want to ensure their documentation is readily available in multiple formats, including PDFs, webpages for instant access, and responsive designs suitable for mobile devices, so it’s good to have those options. Furthermore, as stated above, your documentation might also need to be available in different versions, depending on your audience or user needs. It’s important that the publication of various versions through various channels does not hinder the timely release of your material. Thanks to its flexibility, this guarantees that anyone can access useful and user-friendly documentation, regardless of their preferred way of consuming it.

Finding a tool that can streamline the publishing process across different formats and channels is therefore an important aspect of a documentation strategy. A reliable tool must have strong capabilities for managing content and be able to handle various output formats with minimal manual adjustments. This functionality not only speeds up the publication process but also reduces the potential for errors, ensuring consistency across all versions of the documentation. Ideally, the tool needs to integrate seamlessly with other systems. The right tool can dramatically increase efficiency, enabling organizations to focus more on content quality and less on the intricacies of content distribution.

Additionally, in a world where users rely on multiple platforms, you need to have the capability to publish content across various channels. This means not only on a company’s website, but also on social media, integrated apps, and third-party platforms. This widespread distribution helps maximize the reach and impact of your documentation, ensuring that users can find help whenever and wherever they need it. It also opens up opportunities for a broader audience.

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How to achieve your documentation goals

Developing and executing a thorough documentation plan is necessary for companies seeking to improve their communication and internal procedures. A well-defined documentation strategy makes sure that all team members are on the same page and that documents are consistent, clear, and valuable to the intended audience. Successfully meeting your documentation objectives requires implementing a set of deliberate measures that equip your team, uphold exceptional benchmarks, and cultivate a culture of ongoing enhancement and progress. Here’s how you can structure your approach to meet and exceed your organization’s documentation objectives:

  • Train Your Team: Effective implementation of the documentation strategy requires proper training for team members to have the necessary knowledge and skills. Conduct thorough training sessions that cover tool usage, document standards, and best practices. Foster a culture of continuous improvement by promoting open communication and collaboration.
  • Establish content standards: Create a set of standards to ensure uniformity in all written materials. Specify the appropriate voice, tone, and style for your target audience. Detail the structure and design of documents.
  • Implement and Iterate: Implement your documentation plan gradually, beginning with small pilot projects before moving on to full-scale implementation. Keep track of progress, collect input, and make changes as necessary. Continuously assess the success of your plan and make adjustments based on changing requirements and input from those involved.

You can achieve your organization’s documentation goals and improve its process by following these steps and staying committed to continuous improvement. Through setting specific targets and creating a well-thought-out plan, you can successfully implement your documentation strategy and unlock the full potential of your organization’s documentation process.

How to know if your documentation strategy works

Monitor performance metrics

Once you have your documentation strategy in place, it’s important to establish criteria for evaluating its success. This may include examining engagement levels of users, decreasing the need for helpdesk calls and other pertinent performance indicators. It’s best to consistently monitor these metrics to determine if your documentation strategy is achieving its objectives.

Rate the reduction in support needs

One way to measure the effectiveness of documentation in resolving user issues is by comparing the volume of helpdesk or customer support calls before and after updates. If there is a decrease in calls, it can indicate that users are successfully finding solutions.

  • Documentation Impact: Through a comparison of your data before and after the new documentation strategy, it is possible to determine if there has been a significant decline in the number of calls concerning problems that have been directly covered in the revised documentation. For example, if a new tutorial or FAQ section has been included to address a frequently asked question or error, a subsequent decrease in related support calls can confirm the success of that information.The reduction of helpdesk calls is an important measure of how well your documentation is able to equip users with the necessary information to resolve issues on their own.
  • Data Collection and Analysis: To expand on the reduction in help center questions, another smart task is to collect information on the type of questions coming into the help center. Group this information according to the type of issues or questions raised by users. Once you have implemented significant revisions or additions to your documentation, track the same measures for a similar time frame. Examining patterns like these can assist in identifying if there is a link between improved documentation and a decrease in support calls.
  • Continuous Improvement: Ensure that you establish frequent evaluations to evaluate the effectiveness of documentation and make necessary adjustments based on ongoing input from users and the support team. This continual process of receiving feedback, improving documentation, and analyzing helpdesk data leads to the development of a more efficient self-service system over time.

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By adhering to these steps and remaining dedicated to ongoing enhancement, you can realize your organization’s documentation objectives and enhance its procedures. By establishing clear objectives and developing a thorough strategy, you can effectively execute your documentation plan and unleash the complete capabilities of your organization’s documentation process.

Remember, a documentation strategy is the unsung hero of organizational efficiency, silently orchestrating seamless workflows and empowering teams to achieve their full potential. By going beyond paperwork, it transforms into a valuable tool that boosts efficiency, promotes teamwork, and encourages creativity. As companies navigate the challenges of the complex business world, implementing a thorough approach to documentation is not only wise, but necessary for survival and prosperity in an ever-changing environment.

Get started with Paligo

Paligo is built to meet the most demanding requirements, with plans made for any company from the growing SMB to the large Enterprise.

Book a demo