The Documentation Plan is a broad document that details a technical writer’s objectives, responsibilities, strategies, and time estimates required to produce quality system documentation deliverables for a given product or service. The plan serves as a contract between the technical writing services team and the project team, and lays the groundwork for producing the best documentation deliverables in unison with the development of the product or service.Phases of documentation development
- Approvals and sign-offs
Why include Documentation Plan as part of product design?
For many projects, the tasks for product documentation are incorporated toward the end of the project rather than at the beginning when they can be most beneficial. This lack of early warning to the technical writers responsible for such publications puts a strain on their department’s resource planning. Lack of early planning also hides the work that the team itself must contribute to the documentation effort, which can result in an expensive delay in getting to market or poor quality documentation that is rushed at the last minute.
By including the Documentation Plan as part of product design, you minimize the risk of missing a key deliverable, or assuming that another team will jump in at the last minute and assist you in completing your documentation. This may work in a small company where things are more flexible but, is unlikely if you work in a larger, process-driven work environment.
Also, if you work as a freelance technical writer or outsourcing consultant, make sure you get any assumptions clarified before you begin your project to avoid misunderstandings between you and your client. When working on outsourced documentation projects for clients, Novatek recommends using a formal Statement of Work (SOW) to confirm all details about the project and serve as the project’s official contract between the client and the vendor.Goals of the Documentation Plan
- Enable work task resources to be delegated appropriately
- Share execution strategy with design, development, and other teams
- Track the progress of development teams and modify Documentation Plan accordingly
- Track the execution of your deliverables
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7 Essential Components of a Strong Documentation Plan
A Documentation Plan describes how the content will be prepared, delivered, and distributed. It captures the file format, page count, tools; identifies human, software, hardware, and writer's requirements; clarifies roles and responsibilities; prepares schedules and resource allocation. The plan also gives your technical writers clear direction and ongoing, constructive feedback on their work performance.
For a strong, effective Documentation Plan, include the following components in your document:
- Introduction. Write a brief overview about the product/project. Describe features of the current version of the software or model of the hardware.
- Deliverables. List all the documentation deliverables and their formats. For example, user manuals, online help, installation instructions, service manuals, and various other reference guides.
- Audience. Describe the information generated during the audience analysis part of the project design and any information about audience profiles that might be available.
- Requirements. Define all the writer’s requirements, such as hardware requirements, software requirements, and other technical requirements to complete the assignment.
- Schedules. Provide all the dates and deadlines for the various stages in the product design and development cycle. Before finalizing any schedules, documentation managers should consult with the product management team to confirm their requirements.
- Resource allocation. List all the technical writers working on the project and the document deliverables assigned to each. Even though this might change during the project, it will serve as a good starting point for assigning ownership.
- Stakeholders. List other stakeholders such as the management team, technical reviewers, and members of the quality assurance group.
Keep in mind that the Documentation Plan is a working document and must be continuously updated during the various stages of the product design and development cycle to be effective.
For previous blogs that discuss Documentation Plans, read:
- When to Add a Project Manager to Your Technical Documentation Plan
- Outsource Writing: 5 Tips for Implementing Your Documentation Plan