Episode 17 | How to save time with good documentation

Episode 4 November 01, 2023 00:06:45
Episode 17 | How to save time with good documentation
Remote Culture Club with Alix Dunn
Episode 17 | How to save time with good documentation

Nov 01 2023 | 00:06:45


Show Notes

Good documentation fuels remote teams, giving your team the info they need at their fingertips to get stuff done without having to ask a million questions. But documentation is a bit of a Goldilocks problem. Teams tend to have too little of it, or far too much.

So how can you perfect your approach to documenting your team’s work? In this mini-episode, Alix shares three strategies for getting your documentation juuuust right.

View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

[00:00:07] Speaker A: Welcome to the Remote Culture Club podcast. On this show, we inspire and equip leaders to build remote culture that works. I'm your host, Alex Dunn, and even though I've been leading remote organizations for over ten years, I'm always learning more. It's really nice to have you here. And without further ado, welcome to the show. [00:00:25] Speaker B: Do. In this episode, I want to talk about documentation, and I want to talk about three things that I think makes documentation actually effective in remote spaces. The first is don't make too much of it. We'll get into that. The second is you've got to make it a habit if it's done intermittently, doesn't work. And the third is it needs to be produced from the perspective of someone that is seeking information, not from the perspective of the person that is documenting. So I'll take you through each of those and talk a little bit about what I mean and what it looks like if it's done well. That first one is don't make too much documentation. So one of the biggest problems I see in remote organizations that don't do documentation well is that they just produce too much. So you get the document with the link to the other document and the link to the other document, and the linked table of contents and the 25 page policy document about X topic or Y topic. And what happens is, when people are seeking information, people will say, oh, yeah, no, I put that together. Here's a link. And we all know that feeling of, oh, I guess I have to dig through a 25 page document to answer a really simple question. And what happens when that happens is people go to other people, people say, hey, I know, thank you for documenting all of that. Can you just answer my pretty basic question that is going to take me way longer to find than it is for you to answer it? And then what happens then is that you've created all this documentation, but then no one uses it. And I think people start getting resentful that, well, I put all this energy into making this documentation available, and for some reason, no one is looking at it and instead is coming to me to ask questions. A lot of times that's because there's too much documentation. So I would encourage you, if you feel like you're in an organization that does that, to be a little bit judicious about when you document something, be sure you delete things when they're no longer relevant. I would also think about the types of things that you think are important to document, and if you're doing it because you want to capture it or because you think people need it. The second is to make documentation a habit. And this is something that I think is helpful for a lot of reasons, but I think it's mainly because when things are fresh, we're oftentimes in a hurry to do something else. So let's say something important happens in the context of a project. Oftentimes our first instinct isn't to write it down or to take the time to document what happened in the process so that the next person that has to do the thing that we just did has an easier time of it because there's a step by step process that's been written down or at least notes about how we handled the situation. And it only works if you do it habitually because you're able to sort of systematically recognize what's actually valuable and then when that value is there, you actually take the time to document it. Otherwise what happens if it's not habitual is in some moment you've identified. Maybe it's a retreat. Maybe someone gets assigned a task to spend a week doing something. You do this sort of brain dump documentation where you write and write and write and write and write, and what ends up happening is you end up with the first problem, which is you end up with too much documentation that actually isn't particularly useful because it's not those insightful or highly leveraged things to document. Instead, it's whatever's on top of your mind when you're sitting down to do the documentation. So the first thing is don't document too much. The second is make documentation habit. And the third is, when you make documentation, make it from the perspective of a person that is going to be accessing it. This is so important, the number of documents and policies and anything around projects that I see that was written to scratch the itch of the person that wrote the document because they really wanted to capture it all and had no attempt to make it accessible for people that weren't coming in with that knowledge that the writer had. It just happens all the time. And what it ends up doing is it means that you don't capture the things that would help people on board. It means the documentation isn't user friendly enough to actually be explored without the assistance of someone more familiar with the project. And it means generally that people aren't going to use it, people aren't going to answer their questions with that documentation, they're not going to spend the time digging through it. And overall, you're just not going to capture the knowledge necessary to allow you to work more autonomously and independently than you would otherwise be able to in an in person space. So just to recap, documentation is critical. You don't want to have to be online all the time to answer questions from people that come up. You want to be able to write it down and have people find that information and be able to answer their own questions. But the only way that happens is, one, if you don't document too much, so stop it if you're doing that. Two, you got to make it a habit. It's got to be something that you do when you notice something worth documenting happens. And three, you've got to do it from the perspective of someone that's going to be accessing that documentation, not from your perspective as the person that was involved in whatever the process was from the beginning. So I hope that's helpful and clarifying a little bit on why your documentation problems might exist in your organization. And I hope that sort of encourages you to maybe sit down, find something that happened this week that if you documented it would make someone else's life easier and start getting into that habit and maybe have a conversation about where your documentation is helpful and where it's just a bunch of documents sitting in a folder somewhere. Hope that's helpful. Have a nice week and talk to you sooner.

Other Episodes

Episode 8

June 14, 2023 00:32:06
Episode Cover

Episode 8 | Making magic and momentum in virtual events with Sarah Allen

When in-person conferences became impossible in 2020, Mozilla’s Sarah Allen and her team had to move their renowned annual convening MozFest online. But how...


Episode 2

October 04, 2023 00:05:22
Episode Cover

Episode 15 | How ‘metawork’ can help your team thrive

In remote work, small decisions can have a big impact on the effectiveness of your team: how you document your work, how you share...


Episode 4

April 19, 2023 00:42:10
Episode Cover

Episode 4 | Community building in remote environments with Tatiana Figueredo

How can you foster a sense of belonging and connection when your team doesn't work in the same office? How can you create genuine...