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Lean Approach to Software and Technical Documentation

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 Lean approach to Software Development

Lean is an adaptation of the Toyota Production System. This is followed as a methodology and is adopted in sectors such as healthcare, manufacturing industries, and software development.
Lean

Its main ideology is about removing anything that is not adding value during development. The removal of non value activities may include many and to name a few.

  • Redundant code with functionality
  • Delay in software development activities
  • Doubtful requirements
  • Inadequate testing cycles that lead to repetitive process
  • Slow internal communication

Lean approach to Technical Documentation

Author Mark Eaton of Lean for Practitioners and Lean Practitioners Handbook voiced his opinion saying

  • “Documentation is value adding if the client is paying for the documentation bundled with the product”
  • “Documentation becomes an essential non-value adding, even if client doesn’t agree to pay for it, documentation becomes a necessary task along with testing activities”
  • “Documented information sometimes may sound repetitive with wasteful content”
  • “Best documentation improves operating cost and increases productivity efficiency”

The overall Lean ideology of removing waste or non-value addition from writers and from readers perspective can be summarized into

Readers Perspective
Waste Effect on the reader
Non-adding value Content that doesn’t meet the expectations
Over loaded Content is more detailed or difficult to be understood
Unevenness Difficulty in searching or finding information
Writers Perspective
Waste Effect on the writer
Non-adding value Content that requires multiple drafts or edits
Over loaded Unexpected delay due to more changes in work and not much time
Unevenness Delay in review, approval, and publishing content

Recommendation on Lean style of Writing

  • Writing of Lean means documenting only those information that are required or that is important for the user while performing an action
  • When you are over loaded with information at the same time, you don’t know how to schedule and prioritize information. Lean helps you with the concept of “Runners”, “Repeaters”, and “Strangers”.  Runners are activities that happen all the time, Repeaters are activities that happen at a routine and less often, and Strangers are activities that happen very rarely.
  • Document as the product keeps evolving to know the different functions or product behavior and its changing requirements to avoid bottlenecks and surprises
  • Do not make the user wait and toggle between your product user screen and help system, instead have a flow-based approach or help at the point when needed.

The Virtual doorway effect

The virtual doorway effect on users happen while leaving from one user screen of the application to another to read the help, this leaves the user difficult to keep in the application flow.

Researches say that your brain has the potential to divide your actions into separate modules or compartments. After it moves to a new module, the brain records your previous action, making it less available for access. The brain is not supposed to be complained for this, but its rather the doorway effect that we have put the brain into.

To counter this effect, E-learning and interactive tools have started gaining more importance in the field of user assistance and technical communication.

Application Flow

By adapting flow based user assistance, we take into consideration of other technical communication concepts such as adaptive content, effective assistance, conversation and community-based documentation, and structured content.

It means that user assistance is embedded into the User Interface – for example, helping explain what certain concepts mean and embedding the learning into specific situations.

Lean and Validated Learning

Validated learning from Lean helps the user to understand and measure the output and the values created quickly. Validated learning in quicker terms is more meaningful and applicable to startups which grow and show steady or rapid progress in a market filled with uncertainty. Validated learning in Lean is filled with positive enhancements by deep hypothesis, research, goal fulfillment, and solution finding.

In today’s existence of intense hunt for excellence and search for profitability and competitiveness many manufacturing companies have turned to lean manufacturing to eliminate waste in their production methods. Lean principles have becomes the standard operation procedure (SOP) of industries confined to automobile and manufacturing sectors. The reason behind Lean success is simple, when Lean method is applied with a proven performance management system, they deliver results with track record of operational and strategic success with high value to the end customer.

In technical documentation, Lean principle adheres to standard procedures of PLAN, DO, CHECK, and ADJUST which eliminates waste by

  • The need for a document at the first level, how and why such guides/documents are required, who are the users, how often the documents will be used, how easily users can access them, and what are the authorization levels etc.,
  • The number of improvement levels or cycles that are required for implementing the standard document workflow and deployment of tools
  • Monitoring how well the applied best practices and tools perform. Check if the plan done at the first level require revision/change. The monitoring is not only about fixing problems; it is also about the acheivement made at one level, that can be applied at different stages
  • Regular or periodic checking of reports on usage trends and pattern will result in continous improvement and upgrade of documentation process

Having the best lean methods can eliminate major bottlenecks like reduced training time, streamline repetitive documentation tasks, unauthorized user access, improve operational performance in terms of simplified user interface, document routing, capture, index, store, reduced printing waste, secure printing and scanning policies to save time, and money.

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