Documentation – an Essential Constituent of the Product Life Cycle

Imagine you just made a groundbreaking product that would change the very fabric of the earth. Imagine it is the next big revolution the world needs. But a sturdy wall stands tall amidst your product’s full potential: Software Documentation. Et tu, Brute? If only you had chronologically documented and updated every bitsy detail related to the product, the key stakeholders or end users would be well-aligned with the product’s capabilities, know their options better and hence, make informed decisions.

Hard fact: Nobody likes searching for answers. No matter how simple and intuitive your application is, there has to be a single source of truth for the users to refer to when they are looking for answers so they don’t drift away or jump to other mediums in search of them. Be it a quick guide to implementing the most in-demand feature or troubleshooting a very rarely occurring issue, regardless of how popular or unpopular the quest for that information is, it is important to publish it for your customers and be the first respondents of their potential problems or areas where they might need guidance.

70% of the customers prefer visiting the company’s website for information than reaching out to support via phone or email.

Source: TechSmith

Documentation is an integral part of any modern organization striving to be the best. Having this essential component means there exists a business process to plan, manage, and track software development during all stages of its lifecycle. You heard right, documentation is involved in each and every phase of the software development life cycle and hence, comes in various forms, each unique in its nature.

So where do you start? How much information do you share? What goes in? What does not? Where do you draw a line? Read on.

Right From the Starting Point of Any Software Development Life Cycle

Plans alone are nothing but planning is everything! Kicking off a project with the correct roadmap is fundamental. That is where documentation comes in. It is vital to keep your development plan intact with your project goals starting from requirement gathering phase to final deliverables.

System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) is the accepted information system largely used in today’s business industry. The first step in SDLC is to define the requirements of a product, including the product’s purpose, features, functionality, and behavior. At this stage, the Product Requirements Documentation (PRDs) serves as a guide for business and technical teams that keeps the requirements or specifications intact and acts as a reference point for engineering. 

Building Documents in Parallel as We Go Down The Road

As the software architects in the company put the tech stack together, it is important to pen down these building stones with specifics of the application design, the frameworks used, the hierarchy of various components involved, who talks to whom and in what direction. In short, a high level layout of how each component of the software is integrated together should be put in writing. All of this goes in an architecture guide.

As the designs are blown to life in the development phase, the user flows are bound and programmed to follow a certain sequence of steps. Having a user guide that walks the user through each step of the software application not only speeds up their understanding of your application features but also reveals its otherwise hidden potential. Moreover, it reduces your support cost so your sales team and customer representatives can invest their time and energy on critical activities more focused on achieving your business goals.

Needless to say, your customers may not even reach this point in the first place without an installation guide covering everything they need to know from initial deployment to integration with hardware components or downloading must-have packages and dependencies. Installation guide, release notes, and device manuals all fall under the umbrella of documentation services.

API Guide: The Developer’s Choice Document

While we are on the subject of listing various documentation types, another very important and widely used document is the API guide. Your software product can only grow if its external APIs are known to the world. It is of primary importance to jot down ways to interact with the application and access data from it. These API documents are used extensively by developers who think analytically, while actively trying to communicate with servers via API calls. 

To provide the best developer experience, we at X-96, use Swagger, Postman, and other OpenAPI Specification based industry standard tools based on our clients’ needs to compile API information incorporated into custom HTML themes for each client.

The Face of the Modern Documentation

The direct and indirect benefits of technical documentation are never ending. The real question however is what tools to use for this purpose? With HTML becoming a standard nowadays due to its ease of online use and having an easy to design and customise interface, we chose a tool to create aesthetic HTMLs for documentation. At X-96, we use Sphinx, a very powerful python-based tool to generate interactive and visually appealing documents. Custom themes are created in-house for each client. Sphinx is a full spectrum of documentation related features supported by multiple extensions, and blends perfectly with high performance and rock-solid reliability. 

Learn more about everything that is covered in our Technical Writing service offering.

Documentation is a powerful companion that keeps everything in place, and shields teams from recurring errors. Having specific, concise, and relevant product documentation is a win-win situation for all, benefiting both the internal and external audience including programmers, testers, new employees, and all end users. It improves communication across all verticals, especially for businesses providing multiple services under one umbrella. 

The documentation experts at X-96 specialize in creating documents that seamlessly integrate our client’s business workflows. They are not only capable of understanding client requirements in depth but also in helping them record every little detail needed in order to achieve their project objectives. In addition to that with our structured technical white papers, customer case studies, and solution briefs, we spruce up the technical marketing efforts to promote our client’s businesses.

The key is to be well-aware of what to document and do it the right way at the right time!

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