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How Do I RTFM When There Is No FMTR?


For those working in technology, we love our acronyms don't we?  I'm also a military veteran meaning I have an even greater love of acronyms, or a love/hate relationship with them.  Not because I dislike a good acronym, but because there are so many that are created in the work environment (some quite clever) that it's difficult to keep up.  It's not just acronyms, but all sorts of terminology that appear throughout the workplace and while we each have an idea of what they mean, they don't always mean what we think they mean.  As evidenced by this inconceivable montage.

We know that documentation is important, but at the same time we expect the applications and processes we use to be so intuitive that documenting them is, for the most part, unnecessary.  We never do get that lucky.  There are two good rules for documentation:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Keep it current

There is also an exception to these rules and the exception is "there are exceptions to these rules".  Much like over 90% of code is error checking, 90% of documentation is what to do and how, with a small percentage dealing with exceptions.  How do we get past this and ensure our corporate documentation is useful to those who take the time to read it? 

There are two topics of workplace documentation that are critical to smooth operations.  One is a common terminology, a master dictionary of nomenclature if you will.  Including all the acronyms that clever people create at the workplace.  Second is detailing processes and the applications used in those processes while incorporating your enterprise language.  Detailing visually is a great way of keeping it simple.  When you can show a screenshot of where to click, or a live video of the mouse pointer moving and clicking, it's so much easier to grasp then trying to explain with words only.

If your Content Management System (CMS) is called "Doc Holiday" then refer to it as "Doc Holiday" with a link to your dictionary of enterprise nomenclature.  There it can be explained that "Doc Holiday" is the CMS so named because of these funny stories of how in the beginning it was so slow to use it seemed to be out of town on a holiday and search was so poorly structured it was "a gamble" to get the right answer and it was always "like pulling teeth" if you'd find what you needed.  Now it's common place for fellow employees to tell you to "ask Doc Holiday" meaning search the CMS for the document.  (BTW- this is not a true story of a CMS name I ever dealt with, but one I just made up on the fly.  I first called it "Daffy Doc" and when I couldn't think of a good story I changed it to "Doc Holiday", which I could work with.)

The challenge is how to keep documentation current.  This is where I'm a proponent of online workplace communities with a "living document" structure.  Allow the document to be updated and edited as needed to comply with the rules of keeping documentation simple and current.  Allow people to add exceptions within the document, appended as comments, or as a new set of documents that can be referenced.  If there's a concern of open editing, keep in mind that proper wiki pages have version control, tracking, and roll-back capabilities.  If there's still a concern, then arrange for a content gatekeeper that receives update requests and rolls them in accordingly.  Bearing in mind that as your company grows so will the documentation requirements and a single gatekeeper can become a choke point

Business processes are loosely structured today, designed to be fluid in support of new initiatives such as BYOD and the documentation that details them should be just as fluid.  Incent your employees to play an active role in keeping corporate documentation current by editing typos, fixing errors and updating outdated information.  Develop an archive strategy that removes ancient information from search.  Always provide the most relevant information to a user.  Documentation isn't difficult, but if you want to empower your employees to be self-sufficient in learning processes, applications and corporate nomenclature then you need them to Read The Friendly Manual and find value when they do.