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Documentation…

I write a lot in my professional life (in my personal life too – Thank you in advance for reading today’s little ditty!).  I wonder how long “writing” will continue in our society what with voice recognition technology advancing the way it is.

They say to be effective at writing; you have to “grab” your reader quickly.  Otherwise, short attention spans take over.  I even attended a Training and Development seminar recently where the focus was on “micro-training”; 180 to 300 second training pieces to match the short attention spans that dominate – maybe even “control” – people today.  I guess writers of User Manuals didn’t get the memo about this “grab them quickly” concept.

But being “trained” 3 to 5 minutes at a time, WOW! Add in “machine learning” and it makes me wonder who’s doing the learning; us or the machines?

Documentation goes well beyond the Training and Development field.  Just about everything in our world can be improved when it’s properly documented.  However, there is “meaningful” documentation and then there’s “fluff”:

The bad news about formal proposals is that most are poorly composed, poorly written, include a lot of unnecessary information, are hard to comprehend, and are usually much too long.  The good news?  Nobody reads them anyway. 

Mahan Khalsa

I believe documenting what you do makes you better at doing it.  Remember the almost fanatical commitment to documenting step-by-step procedures in the movie Apollo 13?  No place for “fluff” on the way to the moon and back.

I recognize not every task we do at work carries equal importance.  In fact, according to our favorite Unknown Sage:

Cohn’s Law

The more time you spend in reporting on what you are doing, the less time you have to do anything. Stability is achieved when you spend all your time doing nothing but reporting on the nothing you are doing.

That’s one way to reach stability I suppose.

Nonetheless, the VPs at my company are committed to meaningful documentation.  My program (and my colleagues’) must be properly documented whether we believe anyone actually reads it or not. That’s OK by me; I don’t mind doing the work.  But I confess that sometimes I wonder:

Written reports have purpose only if read by the King. 

Wess Roberts

How hard would you work at documenting your job if you thought the King wasn’t reading your reports?  Assuming you don’t work for NASA, of course.  Said differently by Charles Kingsley:

The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.

I know I should do the best job I’m capable of doing regardless of inspection by others.  And as I stated above, documenting what I do makes me better at doing it.  I will know, as will my clients, whether I deliver quality work or not.  Pride in that quality should be motivation enough.

Yet I confess when it comes to documentation that Unknown Sage has me worried:

Arnold’s First Law of Documentation

If it should exist, it doesn’t.

Arnold’s Second Law of Documentation

If it does exist, it’s out of date.

Arnold’s Third Law of Documentation

Only useless documentation transcends the first two laws.

Especially, that Third Law!

So, I’m documenting for you today the details behind my personal and professional documentation activities.  In so doing, I hope it improves the quality of my work.  And thankfully, someone took the time to document all those laws for us kings to read and contemplate today.

GAP

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2 Comments


  1. Cameron
    Jun 06, 2018

    Hope you are well Gary. Great stuff here. Reporting and some documentation, IMO, proves/shows that you have integrity. The Charles Kingsley quote speaks of integrity: “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.”

    When I attended CSU and was a member of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, I embraced a quote from our founding father, Robert Morrison, “To do what ought to be done but would not have been done unless I did it, I thought to be my duty.” It has served me well. Nike also has a great marketing slogan, “Just do it.” And of course, “Do. Or, do not. There is no try.” Yoda. I might be a little out of bounds here, but it’s fun to quote a little green creature! 🙂


    • Gary
      Jun 15, 2018

      Thanks for doing it Cameron! Thx, GAP

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