Document or die

Documenting your projects is to preserve your memory.

Studying Computer Science in Cuba at the beginning of 2000’s could be harsh. Learning to code on paper with no PCs could be challenging, even though it makes you sharp on coding. You had to be your own compiler. And of course debugging was the best part of it. Later you could get until 4am in front of a PC to properly make your codes work. At the next day all my mates, and me were tired as fuck. But happily coding.

When I was already on the 5th year of Computer Science I’ve decided already to study Graphic Design (or Informational Design as they used to call it -same dog, different collar). Once I landed on that university everyone wanted to make the best designs as fast as possible. The first year was almost entirely without any computer. In any case we spent long nights to create something that at the next morning looked great. Again I was extremely tired. But happily designing.

When I came to Berlin to complete my studies in Visual Communication Design the path was the same. Work hard. Create a deliverable. Get a note for that. Move forward.

So, basically always I was working to make things done. And it worked pretty well. But what remains from all those projects made during the last 14 years? Barely nothing. Just memories or some sketches and files. Some GBs in an archived external hard drive unfortunately. They died without a proper, organized documentation.

It is not only about making things done

While I was working in different environments and playing different roles I’ve faced different levels of issues. But the biggest always was the lack of documentation or process tracking. It does not matter if there was already implemented an Agile environment or any kind of framework. I just couldn’t understand how the Product Manager I was working with had to change requirements all the time with no explanation nor description. Years and years delivering projects and now I was really getting the cold sweat of uncertainty. The Product Manager didn’t know anymore in which direction we were moving. Yeah, there was no documentation of any process. Then I became psychic about documenting and organization. I started basically to document and log any single step I made during my working hours and to notify the counterparts. I started thinking about the working environment as a system. And I decided to write my part of its history as a daily log. Decisions, meetings, feedbacks, improvements, critical work, lite work…

Recently I was talking with a colleague about a documentation she wrote about a developed project. Chapeau I had to say. Not only for the high quality of the project but for the pretty well written document. Easy to read, to the point.

Some time ago I was also going through the documentation made for an upcoming project where all the counterparts where pretty well defined with its goals, background and strategic fits and of course business logics, mock ups. Brilliant. A golden piece of communication.

When you write a documentation is not only for yourself. It is also for the others to read and understand the three important questions about a product: Why, how, what (yes, in that order). Writing a good documentation about your projects sales your ideas. And the ones who come later should buy them.

But what about the other ideas that never were implemented? If you don’t document them they get dissolved on the air or written on a forgotten always-open file on your computer. To write a good documentation you have to foresee the end. Maybe not sharp enough. But you have to see them. You should start documenting at the very first day of the project. That is the very first step. If you procrastinate on documenting you already started to lose with your project. That will create vice cycles during the development process that could attempt against the health of the whole project.

If there is not documentation, your ideas are only yours. It doesn’t matter if you speak 24/7 about them. People will always forget or don’t get all the details as you do. I don’t agree at all with non documenters. Now, I can create a daily increment, I can also be extremely tired… but happily documenting.

First published on Medium

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