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Documentation Strategy Explained

Posted by
Elmira in Technical Writing on 9/21/20227 min read

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Documentation strategy is part of the overall business strategy, which contains the vision of the company’s future. Documentation support is needed to put a business strategy into action. Strategic documents are created to describe HR, sales, and marketing strategies. In other words, a business strategy cannot exist without a vast knowledge base (or documentation base) that serves as its language. Leaving your company without a clear documentation policy, you are actually making your business unclear both to the customers and stakeholders.

Defining Documentation Strategy

Documentation strategy contains your ideas about what your company’s knowledge (information) base should look like and what goals it should serve. The general idea common for documentation strategies in many companies is that documentation has to be helpful generally in two ways:

  • for the in-house users: documents should be used and re-used internally on a daily basis helping employees to work with routine tasks and assignments and solve minor and major problems in their day-to-day operations
  • for the customers: documents should help customers access products and services and use them most efficiently.

Why Do We Need a Good Documentation Strategy?

The answer to this question is simple. A documentation strategy should make the most of your internal and external docs. It should improve customer communication and cooperation with business partners by offering clear and comprehensive information supporting each product, project, or step.

It should optimize the use of internal resources so that your documentation becomes a real asset that can bring profit to your company. Otherwise, the documentation will remain unused or even undiscovered – a genuine terra incognita waiting for its Columbus. This may sound strange, but the fact is that many employees, top managers included, are often unaware of which documents they already have and which are still to be developed or updated. This often results in clashes between different document revisions and confusion among the employees about what docs to use. As a result, there can be downtimes and financial losses.

As a rule, a documentation strategy includes knowledge base management, product documentation, standard operating procedures (SOPs), service-related processes, etc. The most prominent among these are SOPs, as they penetrate all the structure and processes of the company.

In practice, SOPs can be any type of documentation, i.e., documents regulating this or that process. At a production facility, an example of SOP can be an instruction on how to carry out the mothballing procedure (how to take equipment out of commission to use it later or to sell). Such a document should include a description of how to deactivate the equipment, evacuate oxygen from the equipment, fill it with nitrogen, etc.

However, not all SOPs are as complex as the one above. An SOP can have much simpler content; for example, it can be a document referring to occupational health and safety containing information on how to use a PC at the workplace, what breaks should be made to make such work safe for the eyes, etc.

The examples above are internal SOPs or process guides. They can be as many as there are processes in a company.

A good documentation strategy should also include documents targeted at customers. The focus on the customers has two main reasons behind it:

  • Customers wish to avoid contacting the product support team – they want to be able to grasp things intuitively or use context help, or get all the necessary support docs, like guides, manuals, etc., by clicking a link (not by making a request to the support); that is why product documentation should be available and easily accessible for the customers; this will increase customer satisfaction, improve UX parameters, and deflect a large number of repeated questions from customers thus relieving the support team.
  • Customers want to know how to use a product and how the company delivers its services. Service delivery processes make the company transparent for the customers; this results in customers’ increased loyalty and trust – these intangible assets will further improve the marketability of the products and services.

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What Should Documentation Strategy Contain?

The content of a documentation strategy may vary. However, it is usually focused on the following key areas:

  • operating model and processes
  • stakeholders inside and outside the company
  • project plan(s)
  • risk plan
  • communication plan.

All these areas should be covered with high-quality documentation aimed at supporting the overall business strategy of a company.

For example, in the case of a SaaS (software as a service) company, the focus is usually on the product documentation, as this (software product) is what the company sells on the market and what should attract customers. That is why all features of the product are described in full detail.

This is achieved not only through technical documentation but also via blogs, and articles posted on specialized sites for professionals where people discuss industry news and share their experience, in social networks, etc. This is done to attract more customers by creating the necessary agenda in the information field focusing on your product. At the same time, the customers become more loyal to the product when they see that specialists carefully explain all the questions they have.

Internally, on the company’s in-house level, focusing on the product often results in creating troubleshooting guides. Such documents help the support team operate most efficiently and give the customers prompt and helpful replies in case they have any problems using your product. Ultimately, this helps to enhance the UX parameters of the software product as well.

A vital component of a documentation strategy is a tool for determining its efficiency. Without this tool, which should be developed at the early stage of the project, you will never know if the goal has been achieved, and you will hardly be able to move forward to further goals.

If your strategy is to increase customer feedback, feedback data analytics will be an adequate tool for determining its efficiency. Namely, monitoring and measuring the feedback parameters, such as customer support tickets, customer requests, bounce rate, likes and dislikes your product gets, and their ratio.

These parameters and tools should be specified in the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Whether or not your documentation strategy achieves the defined KPIs is in the competence of the top management. The KPIs are reported and discussed at general meetings, and the MoMs are shared with all the stakeholders.

Creating a Good Documentation Strategy

If you are developing a documentation strategy, the checklist below will be helpful. Your strategy should include the following elements:

  • alignment with general business goals (documentation should support the current projects and be aimed at the business priorities of the company)
  • list of documents that still need to be created
  • list of KPIs to monitor and measure the efficiency of the strategy
  • communication plan to share the results with the audience inside and outside the company.

Besides the elements listed above, your company will need means to implement the strategy. These will include:

  • HR policy: you will need to hire a whole team of technical writers and copywriters (the latter will ‘translate’ technical content into a simple language that a wide audience can understand); you will also need a technical writing manager who will lead the team; it is also advisable to have a knowledge manager (knowledge engineer) in the company who will streamline all the information processes within the organization
  • Documentation management policy: you will need to provide your team of writers with the authoring and publishing tools. ClickHelp is a documentation management platform based on single-sourcing and content reuse. It ensures that all content is traced to the same source of information. It helps to make all documents uniform so that there are no clashes of terminology or different text versions. Сontent reuse implies that authors no longer have to cover and rewrite similar topics. Similar content can be adjusted and used repeatedly in different projects.

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Main Documentation Strategies

Documentation strategies can be classified according to the document management approach applied in the company.

  • Firefighter. Most often, it is the “Firefighter” approach which implies that documents are created only when the company cannot do without them. It means that when a problem arises, certain documentation is developed to provide the employees or the customers with a solution.
  • In-Depth Approach. Another well-known strategy is called the In-Depth Approach. In this case, the product’s features are explained in great detail. This strategy is mainly designed for in-house use, i.e., for the use by specialists whose level of knowledge is very deep. It mostly concerns complex issues.
  • Breadth-First Approach. The opposite of the In-Depth Approach is the Breadth-First Approach. It is used when your tech writers have to cover many issues. This is very hard to achieve, so they have to write a little about everything. The idea is to cover the most relevant topics. You have to think of your documentation outline and then write the content for the aspects you think will be the most popular and plan on “firefighting” in case something else is needed.

Conclusion

If you still hesitate about whether your documentation strategy is correct, you can ask yourself one question: Is it efficient or not? By efficiency, most business owners mean extra value that your asset can bring to the business. If your documentation strategy is correct, it will enhance all your business processes and make an excellent contribution to the long-term development of your company.

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

 

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