Improving Your Development Documentation Project (3 of 3)

Improving Your Development Documentation Project (3 of 3)

Javier Hernandez · November 17, 2023

What this article covers
Analysis of the results of the survey and the derived improvement actions.

MS Forms and Excel.

Actioning Your Users' Feedback

Now that we know the current status of our documentation better (See part 1) and we have gathered feedback from our users (See part 2), it is time to analyze the results of our survey. Based on that, we should then find out which improvement actions we can extract from it.

For this article, I'm providing some screenshots of the results of a real developer documentation survey.

Let the fun begin!

Analyzing the Results

To analyze the results of our survey we will group the questions under the following categories:

  • Awareness - Are people aware of your documentation?
  • Frequency of use.
  • Search and page access behaviour - How our users search and access our documentation pages.
  • Page design - Does our page design meet the needs of our users?
  • Next steps (According to our users).
  • General perception.
  • Other comments.
  • Grouping our questions helps us to identify the type of issues impacting our documentation and the domain of the solution to implement.

Results Categories

The following table shows the screenshots of the survey results, for each category, and some quick thoughts about them:

CategoryResultsQuick Thoughts
AwarenessOur documentation is known but there is still space to reach more readers/users.
Frequency of useOur documentation is being used. Yay!
Search and page access behaviourIf a great number of users do CTRL+F to find content on a page, we should review our page design to ensure we are supporting that behaviour.
Page designEven if the majority of our users prefer the content being gradually revealed, a great deal of our users prefer the content being shown all at once. Let's find a balance!
Next Steps (According to our users)Keeping our documentation up-to-date requires finding a cross-team collaboration strategy to involve all the required Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).
General perceptionOur documentation is perceived as useful. What about opening the door for more content?

What to Do Next?

To decide what to do next keep in mind the current state and the needs (priorities) of our users. From this perspective, you can identify which improvement actions will have the highest impact on your users more accurately.

Once you have done that, plan accordingly.

When evaluating the current state of our documentation, you may target some hot potatoes. In this case, do some firefighting first and reduce the biggest pain.

If we don't have any firefighting to do, talk to your manager roles (Product Owner, Scrum Master, Lead Link, etc.) or your customer/user insights roles/team to:

  • Share the survey results.
  • Explain and discuss your ideas.
  • Know their thoughts and perspectives.
  • Involving management and customer/user insights roles increases the awareness of your documentation project, and reinforces the following idea:

Improving product documentation impacts the adoption and ease of use and success of our product.

Planning the Improvement Actions

There is no magic formula to design an improvement plan. The following table provides, for each user survey topic group, some remarks to think about and a basic reference plan of action:

TopicRemarksReference Plan
Awareness and Frequency of UseIncreasing the awareness on your documentation project and collaterally the frequency of use, requires involving management roles of different levels, either to enforce the awareness or to act as radiators of information.1.Identify your main communication channels.
2.Identify your contact person (Product Owners, Product Managers, Lead Links, CEO, CTO, Scrum Masters)

3.Inform them about the need to increase documentation awarenessDesign the layout for your different communications:updates,warnings,issues

4. Be simple and direct.

5. Schedule the communication that can be scheduled

6. Start communicating. Be consistent
Search Behaviour and Page DesignOnce we know our users' behaviour when reading our documentation, we can support that behaviour and implement some changes to help them take the most of their time using our documentation.
Both search behaviour and page design benefit from having text formatting, page layout and visual elements guidelines. Having templates for each type of page also helps.
1. Design your style guidelines: text formatting, header/section strategy and naming, use of visual elements.
2. Identify which type of pages are you using: Overview, Getting Started, API Reference Guide, Tutorials, FAQ.
3. Design your templates... ChatGPT can help you here!
4. Apply your templates to all your documentation pages. Start with the most used pages. Iterate!
5. Be consistent.
Keeping Our Documentation Up-to-DateKeeping our documentation up to date is a tough and cross-team task. Again, involving the management roles of your company is of great help.1. Identify the Subject Matter Expert (SME) for each of the topics of your documentation.
2. Agree with them to schedule and set up regular documentation reviews
3. Implement a reminder for you to follow up on this task.
4. Create a checklist for the SME to perform their reviews.
5. Keep it simple and effective. Check prerequisites, processes or tasks, tools versions and code examples.
General PerceptionGeneral perception depends on many topics. Some we can handle (transparency, support, content quality, etc.), some we just can't (users not happy with their jobs, users prefer to use a different tool but are not allowed, or just bad working habits).
Remember to focus on the issues you can fix.
- Keep fluent and frequent communication with your users
- Make them feel part of an active and helpful community

The End?

Documentation projects are, in most cases, living organisms. They are born, they grow, they interact with their environment, and adapt to new surroundings and demands. To keep our documentation alive and kicking (and our users satisfied!) communication is key.

Then iterate!

Javier Hernandez

Technical Writer @ Lisbon