The mindset of how most people first approach technical documentation, including myself, is perfectly summed up into a piece of popular wisdom, saying:
Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Totally explainable. Up to a point.
Technical documentation seems to take perfectly functional lines of code and break them down into boring, useless explanations.
Plus, if you are the developer who wrote the code, it’s only natural to think you will make sense of what your very own logic produced. And if you’re not, then you probably can find out by ringing that guy at any time of the working days, and even on the weekends. Let’s face it, you’re close enough. You’re one of the few team members of a tech company so small that it doesn’t have a technical writer.
But maybe that’s just the problem.
What your growth strategy lacks is a more user-oriented approach.
Why develop documentation?
Technical manuals and documentation tell us more than how to use an app or any other product. They are the number one tool reflecting how much of your energy goes into UX design. And UX design shows how much importance your users hold. Which should be a lot.
So do you want to generate more traction for your business?
Then maybe a ReadMe is what you need.
If it sounds far-fetched, then let’s take a look at one of the most popular companies that produce hardware and break down their technical process into a step-by-step technical guide. And that is Ikea. OK, maybe that’s not a regular hardware manufacturer, but it’s close enough. And there certainly is a solid, worldwide fanbase the company has.
One of the reasons why is the usability of their products.
The best thing about Ikea is also the worst: their very detailed, almost never-ending instruction manuals. As soon as you open an Ikea manual, putting together the pieces of a chair seems like rocket science. That’s because they take their documentation very seriously. But it’s only when trying to switch to other brands that you realize how useful those stacks of explicit instructions really are.
A 3-step guide to gain more customers through documentation
If you want to achieve the same attachment to your products, follow for your documentation the same set of 3 easy principles that Ikea applies in their manuals.
1. Focus on your user
A lot of companies make the error of getting the engineers or product designers to write the documentation for themselves. But actually, they know their products too well. So, they don’t find it necessary. They always delay until the very end, don’t put much time into making it and leave out many important aspects.
Don’t worry, this is a frequent mistake.
Fix it easily by switching from a developer perspective to a user perspective. They might look alike but differ greatly.
2. See the bigger picture
You need the consumer, or the end user, to understand how they relate to the technology you offer. And as soon as they do so, they’re hooked.
Good documentation increases customer loyalty and ensures that they will buy your other products in the future. It can also be a great selling tool for prospective customers because it gives them a clear idea of how they might use your product, and what they could achieve with it.
So get out of your box. Zoom out. Don’t disregard your customer’s emotions. In the end you’ll have to adopt a broader view anyway, and if it takes you too long, the sight won’t be a delight.
3. Never too many details
Quality user information is the most cost-effective way of answering the questions that your customers will encounter when using your product; otherwise they’ll call you for the answer, a far more expensive solution.
Let’s go back to Ikea. How could they deal with offering support to every customer who doesn't know which screw goes where? They couldn’t. And it’s more than understandable why they wouldn’t.
Good documentation is an essential part of the complete package, not an afterthought or last-minute addition. Put aside time to create it all along the development of the product.
You designed your product with high design values and attention to detail – now apply the same standards to your documentation.
There’s more to documentation than your user
I know what you’re thinking: it seems like my ramble amounted to nothing.
That is not what I’m saying. The 3 principles built around your customer will prove to be very useful as a sales technique for your product and as a business growth tool.
What I’m saying is, it gets better.
Good documentation also works as an internal tool, both after it’s completed and in the process of creating it. Putting information together will help bring everyone in your team on the same page.
Moreover, it boosts the flexibility of your work environment, allowing employees to work hours that differ from the normal company start and stop time. That’s because everybody knows everything about everything, since all knowledge is centralized in the same place.
At Archbee, we always hear from our customers that our documentation software has the most impact on the quality of collaboration inside teams. Empowering people to work real-time on the same documents really gives them the feeling of being part of a community, as well as a sense of security. Everybody knows where to go for accountable data. Documentation is always reliable and works as a community aggregator.
Whatever product or system you’re writing documentation for, people reading it go through a mental journey of learning, understanding and applying that documentation. Be it your users or your own team, use the information that’s already in your company to help you scale up to the next level.
At the end of the day, internal documentation isn’t just about providing instruction manuals for your company’s products or services; it’s a means of communication. While it may feel like it’s an incredibly time-consuming, boring piece of paperwork that nobody is going to read, it’s actually something that is essential to keeping any business running smoothly. When it’s available, thorough, and well written, people will read what is necessary to know how todo their jobs correctly. And if you want your organization to run as smoothly as possible, that’s a good place to start.
Plus, the next time somebody asks you why you’re putting up with this tedious process of writing technical documentation, you have the chance to ask them in return, ”When is the last time you googled for Ikea instructions?”
That should do it.