The importance of documentation in web and software development

Is documentation essential for the project? Who needs documentation, and how can documentation help the stakeholders and the project?

In Information technology (IT), documentation plays a significant role in the success of a web or software project, regardless of whether it is a small project or a big one. It ensures that project stakeholders—such as investors, sponsors, project team members, subject matter experts (SMEs) and developers—are aligned and headed in the same direction. Documentation encourages them to achieve the project's objectives and enables them to develop a quality product in a timely, cost-effective, and efficient manner.

Documentation usually starts at the beginning of the project. However, depending on the development methodology and setup used, the amount of time spent on documentation will vary. After requirement gathering, technical writers or business analysts (BA) will start documenting and interpreting the gathered requirement while also translating it to various documents. Requirement gathering is the process of discovering, understanding and eliciting the exact requirements for a project from users, customers or other stakeholders. This is often done through interviews and brainstorming sessions alongside other techniques. Within your documentation, it should clearly define and explain the agreed requirements, features, functionalities and any additional project-related information that stakeholders have discussed and assessed. Documentation is collaborative work, which means during the documentation process, technical writers and BAs work hand-in-hand with developers, designers and testers to discuss the best course of action. Once the document is completed, it can be shared with the project team to ensure that what was written is achievable before submitting it for final review of stakeholders. Reviewing the documentation is a task that helps to reduce the risk of missing certain requirements or including a process or functionality that is not needed. Once the documentation is approved or signed by the stakeholder, development may now start. Furthermore, at various stages of the project development, multiple documents may be created for the users that play a vital role in accomplishing the project.

Documentation is a must for developers as it will assist them throughout the project's development stage. The documents will explain the detailed process, features and functionalities of what is expected, allowing developers to focus on the task at hand. Also, it will prevent them from building something unnecessary or making errors. In addition, developers can always refer back to the documentation if they forgot something or if they want to clarify requirements that are vague to them. Simultaneously, while the development is ongoing, the documentation will help the quality assurance testers learn and understand what they will be testing.

Documentation helps the project team members or stakeholders have efficient communication as they now have a standard document to reference. Interpretation of what was written may vary from one person to another, so having a standard document will reduce confusion and make tasks easier to discuss.

Suppose there are changes in development, such as adding more functions. In that case, all documentation needs to be updated to ensure it reflects the latest information. This is because other teams will use the documents, such as the support team, and everyone needs to be on the same page. However, for client-based projects, an addendum document will be created. Furthermore, previous documentation can be used to create other papers, such as user manuals and FAQ forms.

For the support team, documents help them provide the best customer service possible, as they now have a guide for resolving issues. It helps ensure that the operational issues reported are minimal and that issue resolution is quick as the end-user will have direct access to information needed to work efficiently and effectively.

Lastly, documentation helps quickly onboard new project team members. They will have material to review, so they can understand how the product works, what processes, features, or functionalities it has.

Regardless of what development methodology is used or the size of the project, it is crucial to have good documentation as it will help the business create a quality product.

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