Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Battle of Documentation

Documentation provides a written account of procedures, practices, successes, failures, and countless other big and small details.  The benefits of documentation include preserving institutional memory, providing new employees with detailed explanations of work tasks, and avoiding personnel from reinventing the wheel.

 Even with all these wonderful benefits, documentation is often neglected in favour of more 'important' tasks.  This can result in a loss of information, incomplete records, and the reproduction of labour later on.  I actually really enjoy creating documentation.  I find creating workflows, policies, and best practices oddly relaxing - perhaps it's the feeling that if I was to get hit by a bus tomorrow, someone would be able to pick up and understand the work I was doing.

My place of work currently uses a wiki to hold our documentation.  Using this communal space allows all staff to read, edit, and reference documentation when necessary.  Since our documentation is all online, staff can access it regardless of where they are working from.  The wiki also automatically tracks changes made to content,Initially a few staff members were reluctant to learn wiki markup, but with some gentle encouragement it became clear that even staff who aren't so tech savvy could learn with time.

In past positions I've used word documents for documentation.  This is probably my least preferred method of documentation.  You end up with multitudes of different versions of the same document and everything needs to be emailed or printed for other staff.  I do recommend that if you are using this method you come up with standard file naming procedures and footnote templates that denote version number.  Standardized naming helps make this slightly cumbersome method of documentation a bit easier to track.

Using Google Docs for documentation eliminates some of the email headaches caused by using Word.  Google Docs allows for items to be shared with multiple people, and can provide a collaborative editing space.

How does your work handle documentation? Do you have a preferred method of documentation?

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