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The Importance of Documentation in Software Development

Ante Brkić, Lead Business Analyst/Product owner

Time is perhaps your biggest enemy when taking on a new project. Innovation requires that you come up with an idea that either no one has thought of before or do it better than your competition. Hence, turning an idea into reality can become a challenging task. You’ll have to turn to different software development methodologies, like Agile or Waterfall, to bring your idea to reality, but most development teams forget the importance of documentation during software development.

Agile is perhaps the most widely used methodology in software development, given the dynamic nature of most projects. Its iterative mode of operation allows flexibility when adapting to market demands, but documentation is something it does not stress upon. Instead, it opts to focus on churning out a working prototype as per its manifesto.

Let’s look at the importance of documentation in software development and how it can help make the Agile methodology become more efficient at realizing projects.

Helps Focus on Goals

There is a misconception amongst the development community that only the product’s source code needs to be documented when delivering it to the client. When you actually venture into the world of software development, you find that the process itself relies on heavy documentation.

The first place you’ll start is the requirement gathering phase of the project. Without documentation of these requirements, software development teams can easily derail from their targets. This becomes especially apparent in the Agile methodology when goals require reassessment at the end of each sprint. Outlining a documented set of objectives can greatly enhance the outlook of the next sprint, allowing developers to focus on what matters, learn from their mistakes, and increase productivity.

Improves Feedback and Implementation

When working with the Agile methodology, developers need to run through a number of sprints in order to bring a project to fruition. The scope of these sprints changes with time, and they may have to go over previous sprints, improve their submissions, or build over them in an iterative fashion.

In cases when related sprints are spaced out, developers will face difficulties in implementation if their code, meetings, and even daily stand-ups aren’t documented. Looking at documentation prior to beginning a sprint can help developers chart out the plan and schedule of implementation. Additionally, it aids in mapping out the cost of implementation, improving the standard of work with optimal resources and minimal expenses.

It could also happen that a different developer may need to build upon some other developer’s work when transitioning into sprints. Here sprint retrospectives come into play. They essentially highlight an assessment of a sprint when it comes to completion. It is a best practice to keep a document on these retrospectives so that future developers can receive feedback regarding the challenges faced, any bugs and issues that remain, and what features need to be improved.

Tracking Progress

Software development projects in Agile are handled by segmenting a large task into smaller chunks called tickets. Tickets are derived from the requirements of the project and assigned to developers for finding solutions towards project realization. They are a means of tracking progress, helping allocate resources, and planning future work.

Although tickets are a form of documentation on their own, they can be further improved by keeping a record of their implementation. Software developers face challenges that require them to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to problems. Having documentation on how a ticket was solved can come in handy for solving future problems.

Managing Change

Every project is unique and may require a team with a diverse set of skills to come to life. Depending on the complexity of the project, you may need to look for individuals who possess the necessary training and knowledge to handle the fast-paced world of software development. Moreover, developers may leave to work on other projects, so you may need to train other individuals or hire new ones to continue working on your projects. Here, the importance of documentation in software development becomes visibly apparent. It helps new team members get up to speed on different aspects of the project, helps them understand what’s expected of them, and how they can improve the workings of the project. This aspect of documentation is true for all software methodologies, including Agile. In fact, it compliments Agile’s collaborative element as it helps developers understand each other’s work.

Prevents Miscommunication

When working on projects, developers don’t normally get involved with the different stakeholders. Their primary focus is on interpreting information and problem-solving. But, what can they do if the information that trickles down to them becomes lost in translation?

Fortunately, the Agile methodology stresses customer collaboration as one of its tenets. It reduces the chances of miscommunication; however, it can be further improved with documentation. Normally, the Scrum Master is responsible for disseminating information and facilitating software development teams’ needs. They don’t need to have the technical knowledge and a background in software development to perform their role. Instead, organizing and streamlining operations is a large part of their job.

Having exemplary documentation skills can help scrum masters to perform their role more effectively, preventing miscommunication between the different stakeholders of a project and improving customer satisfaction metrics.

Documentation in FIYU

Guided by all the above, we in the FIYU team have recognized the importance of quality documentation in product development since the beginning of the project.

All phases are documented:

  • Business requirements
  • Business specification
  • Technical specification
  • Code
  • Test scenarios
  • User manuals

Each of these segments is audited by at least one member of the team, and all changes are posted on Github, so that users of the said documentation have access to it at any time and have an insight into the history of changes. If documentation does not pass the review, it is returned to the author for revision and the iteration is repeated as many times as necessary.

Business documentation (requirements and specifications) is also audited by the client, before it can be developed.

In addition to all phases being documented, the order is also respected, it is not possible to move on to the next phase until the previous one is finalized and confirmed.

In addition to better quality code and a well-documented platform, working this way has enabled us to reduce the onboarding time of new team members and taking over tasks from colleagues.

Final Thoughts

It’s a common saying in the development community that good code does not require documentation. However, software systems are becoming more and more complex as multiple platforms join together to make up a project. What makes sense in a particular part of the code may not make sense when it is linked to other connected parts.

It’s more of a question of organization so that developers have a better understanding of how the different parts of a project intertwine and what their limitations are. Hence, the importance of documentation in software development needs to be stressed no matter what methodology one opts for. Outdated notions of development need to be discarded so that future innovation sees the light of day.

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