Documents Are Worthless – Documentation Means Everything
By Demian Entrekin
Eisenhower once said something to the effect of “plans are worthless – planning means everything.” He carried more planning responsibility than most of us can imagine, so I’d guess that he didn’t mean this lightly.
I have come to believe there is a very strong corollary for documentation. I would say something like this: “documents are worthless – documentation means everything.”
What do I mean by this? I think that the process of creating the documents is much more valuable than the documents themselves. To be sure, the documents have value. They are useful as project history, design communication, product training, etc. But what we really want is product success.
What we don’t want is to hold each other slavishly to our documentation. Once we have ended up there, we are probably in serious trouble. We might even be talking to lawyers. Which is not to say that agreements don’t matter. Of course they matter.
What matters most, however, is great design and great communication.
So what is the role of documentation? In my view, it’s greatest value is as a guide the decision process. We document our discussions, our ideas, our agreements, our imaginations.
We use documentation to create a shared vision, not a cage.
We write things down together as a team. We draw pictures and then try to describe them and what they mean.
Documentation is not a recipe. It is a process to come to an understanding of the problem and a solution design.
It is not a closing down of our options. It is a foundation to build on.
It is not a proscription. It is an articulation of our design strategy.
It is not written in sharpie on paper. It is written in different colors on a white board and then photographed.
When the documentation process starts to settle down we begin to know what we are trying to do and how we want to do it. We can now go to work and build.
And at that point, the documents themselves fade into the background and we build the thing itself.
Demian is the CTO of Innotas. As founder and CEO, Entrekin oversaw marketing, product development, sales and services for the company. Today, he focuses on strategic product direction. Prior to Innotas, Entrekin co-founded Convoy Corporation and was Chief Architect of its initial products. In that role, Entrekin helped the company lead the middleware market with an annual growth rate of 670 percent and played an instrumental role in Convoy’s subsequent acquisition by New Era Networks in 1999. A recognized thought leader in Project Portfolio Management, Entrekin has published numerous papers on PPM and his blog (PPM Today) explores current issues related to successful PPM implementation. During his 18 year career, Demian has assumed leadership roles as a consultant and as an entrepreneur, delivering commercial and corporate database applications. Demian holds a B.A. in English from UCLA and an M.A. in English from San Francisco State University.