If I told you that your documentation sucks, would you agree?

Photo by Nathália Rosa on Unsplash

The real challenge when discussing documentation quality is that it is a topic with so many layers, bottom and dimensions. But I can tell you the following: maintaining documentation is almost an impossible task, when talking about quality and conformity, if you don’t do it right.

It’s also hard to sort out what one actually mean when talking about documentation. In my world, the most obvious type of documentation and actually where I should start a “sifting project” if I got the assignment to do it, is in what many often, quite nonchalantly calls the “operations management system” or maybe “business management system”.

This is most commonly residing in a folder structure on an internal server and consists of a more or less large chunk of word and excel files. Some organizations are that bold so they actually buy a system or a service to use for this, but many, if not to say most, organizations rely heavily on an implementation of Sharepoint that someone purchased years ago, maybe a bit clueless about what to use it for.

The really minor version of the business management system is the word file in the small company that the employees in an ideal world receives printed in their hand at their first day at work. In Sweden often called ”företagshandbok” or ”business handbook”. Here one should be able to take part of decisions made by the firm’s boss(es), that are general and not subject for change that often.

But what happens when new or changed conditions arise, and new decisions are made that might make the printed statements obsolete and possibly even contradictory to what earlier has been communicated? This is a phenomenon valid for all and everybody, regardless of size of the organization or pace in information changes. I should say that in the very same moment that a new decision Is made, or a circumstance popped up making writings inaccurate, the risk for trust within the organization start to erode. It might not be a big issue at first, but if the maintainer och the information don’t swiftly inform everybody affected by the change that new information is available, the risk is that someone find out and take advantage of it. Within a shorter period of time one realize at first, the respect for what has been decided lessens, and so does the attitude towards personal responsibility and engagement as well. This will do daily management more cumbersome to perform and time for information maintenance will be taken for handling errors and corrective measures.

”But this is obvious!” say the initiated reader – ”why even bother take time to write about such things that are always ongoing??”
Well, maybe just because this is always ongoing, in far too many places. This also hampers the communication efforts and erodes the value of communication not seldom critical for the business in question. In a little bit longer turn it affects the profitability (or in a public service, level of value creation and effective use of taxpayers money.

So, how should one do to get around this problem? I’m convinced that managers on all levels need to be continuously fostered in how to communicate. Because the communication culture is so firmly connected to the accuracy of what is communicated. I dare to say that if you manage to make everybody aware of the natural law of information, stating that:

If one don’t have information, it is not possible to take responsibility,
but if one have information, it is not possible to not take responsibility.

Add to this that the information must be accurate, and you have a solid starting point for your work with communication planning.

An additional bonus to this is that if you nurture a communication and information aware culture, overbody involved will be interested in and prone to put requirements on correct information to be correctly communicated.

And this, is one of the most overlooked things in organizations. Now and everywhere.

Technical documentation, often managed within some sort of Configuration Management Process, is partly a bit different though related. I will come back on that one in a future post. As well as the hurdles with how to actually get the organization informed for real. And that’s even one more future post.


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