How to Maintain Software Documentation
Writing documentation is a tedious job and the worst part is, you have to keep changing it. Why do we need software to manage documentation? There are numerous reasons, but here are five: It saves time in the long run, helps you manage all matters relating to documentation, manages sensitive information and prevents data loss because of a possible computer crash.
Writing and publishing good documentation is a hard job. Also, it’s a time-consuming job. Whenever you add to the mix – a language barrier, an ever growing product with multiple features and attention to more than one target audience – you have yourself a challenging task on your hands.
Are you a company owner or business manager and seeking best application to manage documentation? Document management is important to save and store documents, like contracts, agreements, policies etc. For saving and storing documents, you can use different types of software, but there are some limitations if you use any existing software. Some existing software’s limitation is keeping up with document load, document itself changes quickly and new documents added every day. Using that existing software, that becomes difficult to manage documentation documents properly. So there are some alternatives for that software like – best application to manage documentation.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a freelancer or running your own business. Most likely, you are constantly searching for better software to manage your documentation. This can be challenging thing to do because there are literally hundreds and thousands of options available.
In this blog we will focus on software documentation, namely the documentation produced by teams and individuals involved in defining and developing software (architects and developers). There are other complementing types of documentation like requirements, business analysis, etc which we will not be focusing on.
How many times we jump into an existing active project or take on maintenance of “legacy” software, only to find out that documentation is either missing or not sufficient.
This is unfortunately a very common experience for many development teams. Why is this happening? There are a few reasons:
- The pace of software development is constantly increasing to respond to more and more complex market demands. Activities deemed as “non-essential” like documentation and sometimes even testing(sic!) are brushed aside in favor of increasing output of features.
- Documentation is hard to maintain over time as more complex software leads to more complex documentation.
- Diagrams and drawings tend to be very brittle and as software evolves, they too became outdated.
- Developing documentation is also well … boring, most developers prefer to focus on interesting features, improving efficiency, coding.
Software documentation goals
Knowing all the effort and time required to address the above points, let’s ask ourselves: why even bother? Why is software documentation important? Good documentation plays critical role in following scenarios:
- Onboarding of new team members. Every time new developer joins the team, good documentation will help in fast orientation and will not require extensive time investment from other team members to teach good fundamental level of the project knowledge.
- Regulatory requirements and audit. If the software you are developing must undergo external or internal audits or is influenced by any regulatory requirements, then good documentation makes it much easier to work with auditors. Sometimes documentation is even a strict requirement for audit.
- Communication with all stakeholders. Good documentation enables all types of stakeholders to understand software in the context they are interested in. If documentation takes into consideration different types of stakeholders and carefully adjusts wording to be less or more technical, then it saves the team a lot of time otherwise spent on explaining and translating software system properties to everyone.
Software documentation characteristics
Let’s define desired characteristics of software documentation to fit into modern, rapid pace of development.
Simple. Documentation should be simple and minimalistic to decrease maintenance effort and make sure all stakeholders (including new developers) can understand the core concepts.
Holistic. Different types of documentation consumers will require different contexts. Good documentation should account for all stakeholders and make sure everyone can participate and understand. Enabling real time collaboration is another important goal.
Automated. In order to make sure that documentation is maintained over time and there is only minimal impact on development teams, most of the diagrams, charts and specifications should be as automated as possible.
Reusable. Software documentation structure, vocabulary and model should be reusable for any new software projects, so having a structured but in the same time flexible documentation model is very useful.
Portable. It should be easy to generate and distribute documentation independently on any hosting medium. Like with any other software, avoiding vendor lockin might be a concern for your company, so designing the core of your documentation in a way that is portable is a good practice.
In this section we will look at different tools, frameworks and documentation models to fulfill documentation characteristics requirements. We are going to focus mostly on open source tools and standards.
Below diagrams shows tools, frameworks and standards we will use to implement our documentation strategy later on.
Tools and Standards
Now, we will focus on specific tools and standards that can be used to implement our strategy. Please note that there are almost always alternatives to each tool, framework or standard. For simplicity I’m recommending the ones I’m familiar with that I know work well together. You can think about it as a starter pack for good software documentation.
To keep documentation simple, we need a suitable medium. Most documentations nowadays are either in MS Word or pdf, but I believe that Markdown is a better choice. Markdown is a lightweight, HTML-like markup language that is very common in software projects (README.md files etc). It is more scalable and easy for developers to use markdown rather than complex text editors like MS Word. Added bonus is that markdown files can be directly edited in IDEs or code editors like Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code, Atom or WebSharper etc.
Document Management Systems
Document Management Systems refers to managing and accessing documents electronically.
Enterprise Content Management Systems manage and control digital documents created using Microsoft Office Suite and accounting software like CAD etc.
Electronic Document Management System should contain the components given below to be proven efficient:
- Import: To open a new document into the system.
- Storage: To maintain system files and utilize storage.
- Identity: To retrieve documents with accuracy by assigning indexes.
- Export: To remove items from the system.
- Security: Password-protection on certain files for authorized users.
How do you choose Document Management Software?
Here are the important aspects that help you to choose Document Management Software:
- Searching: You have to look for a wide variety of options for quickly finding needed files. It is good that it allows you to search documents by name, content, type, and modified date.
- Simple file structure: The Document Management System must have an easy-to-use file structure.
- Version control: Version control or versioning is important feature of document management software that enables you to track changes in files. The best DMS should also maintain an archive of old versions. Therefore, you can easily see the modifications in documents.
- Mobile access: You have to look for the Document Management System that is accessible via tablets and smartphones. This will allow you to view, alter and share files from any place.
- Integration: The document management system should easily integrate with other software you are already using, like CRM software and email client.
- Scanning: The document management software should provide a document scanning feature.
- Security: The document management system must allow you to assign permissions for a particular user on accessing folders and files.
What is the best way to file documents?
Here are the best ways to file documents:
- Alphabetical filing system: The best way to file documents is to filing your documents alphabetically. The name of a folder should be according to the name of the documents.
- Numerical filing system: Businesses that need number documents like invoices should create a numerical filing system.
- Category filing system: You need to arrange your files according to categories like personal, marketing, administration, and customer data. It is also possible to include sub-topics for each category as per your need.
What are the common integrations of Document Management Software?
Here are some important Document Management Software integrations:
- Accounting: It will help you to manage and store your tax documents, financial information, customer bills, and project management.
- CRM: It enables you to transfer, store and organize the details of customer leads.
- Email: You can integrate Microsoft Outlook in your PC as it enables you to store and manage your emails with ease.
- Digital Signature: It automatically allows you to capture a digital signature on files.
What to Look for in Document Management Software
While all document management systems digitize and organize documents, making them easy to retrieve or revise for users with permission, many other features might be built into your document management software. Here’s a look at some of the tools and aspects you might want to consider when choosing a document management system.
One of the most important elements of any software is usability. It could offer all the features in the world, but they won’t do you any good if the system isn’t user-friendly. Many document management systems offer free trials that allow you to test them before buying. If possible, allow your team to try out the software during the free trial period and offer their feedback on what they like and dislike about it.
Document Sharing and Collaboration
While the primary function of a document management system is to digitize and organize files, most modern software also allows users to share files with one another and collaborate on editing them. Some document management software allows users to edit a document simultaneously, while others rely on a check-in/checkout feature that guarantees only one user can work on a document at a time. Others offer both options.
Version control, sometimes referred to as “versioning,” is a critical feature of document management software that lets you keep track of changes to a document. The best document management software even maintains an archive of old versions, letting you see how documents have changed over time and revert to an old version if needed.
Image Scanning and OCR
Image scanning and optical character recognition are useful features for businesses that have a lot of paper records they would like to digitize. Scanning is the first step – turning a paper record into a digital file that can be imported into the software. OCR is a more advanced feature, but it’s a must-have for streamlining large digitization projects. OCR reads the text of an image and makes the content of the image searchable. The best document management systems use OCR to automatically fill out metadata and make it even easier to search for the document later.
Document management software is often home to files that require a manager’s signature, such as purchase orders. Many document management systems integrate with an e-signature tool, such as DocuSign, to allow electronic signatures. You can often send a document to a recipient with a request for their signature through the software.
Workflow automation features move tasks along automatically. Take the purchase order above as an example: You could set up a workflow automation so that once a purchase order is generated, it automatically goes to the appropriate manager for their signature. The manager will receive a notification, and when the task is complete, the next relevant team member (such as someone in the accounting department or the manager’s supervisor) will be notified. If more action is necessary, you might be able to build that into the automated workflow as well. The best document management systems allow you to customize workflows to suit the way your teams work together.
In a fast-paced business environment, employees need better ways to manage their knowledge and skills. Document management software makes the process of saving, storing, sharing and using documents easier. Checking out the latest solutions that are available on the market can be overwhelming, so it’s important to do your research. Luckily, we’ve put together this overview of products that can help.
Best software to manage documentation This is a question that many industries and professionals ask to themselves before starting their work. In the IT sector, you have many software to manage documentation that can help you save time and money with efficiency.