Plan to Not Plan

Posted by Greg DeVore

I don't ever plan my documentation. I used to. But not anymore. It's a waste of time. Maybe if I were on a documentation team and had 6 months to get the documentation ready then maybe I would plan. I could plan and then revise and then plan some more.

But I am not on a documentation team. I run a business. I am the web programmer, accountant, custodian, sales person, system admin and business development director. I don't have time to plan my documentation.

So what have I done? I have planned not to plan. I have created a system for documentation that requires no planning at all AND creates documentation that is much more useful to our customers. It really is quite simple. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. I write down the questions my customers have actually asked me.
  2. I create lessons in ScreenSteps that answer those questions.
  3. I post the answers as a manual to ScreenSteps Live. You can see an example here.
  4. When a customer asks a question I do one of two things:
    1. If I have a lesson that answers their question I send it to them.
    2. If I don't, I create one, add it to the manual and send it to them. See here and here for two lessons I added to our manual this last week in response to customer questions.

This system has worked really well for me. I don't end up writing content that won't ever get used again, the lessons are very easy to update because they focus around a specifc task and I can quickly respond to customer questions.

Try it out. On your next documentation project, plan not to plan. Just answer the questions people are asking. You will find that your documentation will be easier to create and easier to use.

Webinar: Why Your Documentation is Useless and How to Fix It

Download the free webinar to learn why your documentation/knowledge base is ineffective and what simple steps you can take to improve it.

Topics: Software Documentation Tips