Monday, January 9, 2012

When was the last time you curled up with a cup of cocoa and a great user manual?

Great enterprise software product documentation provides perfectly relevant content to all potential users, whether it's in the form of a high-level architecture diagram, a step-by-step walkthrough, or complex API documentation. However, no single format works for all users, and creating thorough documentation for different user bases requires time and great writers. Unfortunately, for those people launching enterprise products in a climate of accelerated timelines, market pressure, and tight resources, this is impossible.

So what should you do? It may be tempting to take the "quick and dirty" route, and hastily document as you shove the product out the door – or adopt a "ship first, document later" philosophy. But there are a few innovative ways you can extract the most bang from your documentation buck without sacrificing the speed necessary to compete in today's market.

Let the product be your guide: By allowing product prioritization to drive your documentation effort, you maximize the value of what does get written. Tackle the highest-priority features/systems first, to ensure that core functionality is well-supported. You can get to the nuances of lower-priority functionalities later.

Where does the buck stop? Use revenue-based risk management to ensure that those functionalities that pose the most significant risk to revenue are addressed first.

Make Your User Happy: Especially with a v1 product, your documentation is your first opportunity to engage with your user. Good documentation can actually enhance your product offering. So for the most immediate feature sets, the documentation has to be grounded in the most immediate user expectations. This will require you to think about things like system dependencies or the most probable integration headaches.

If resources are tight in-house, you may want to look for a documentation partner that really "gets" both the speed at which market penetration needs to happen, and the role good documentation plays in product reception. At Idea Entity, we understand those better than most.

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