Business organizations are increasingly seeing the penetration of software products at their operational layers. With more advanced capabilities and automations being built in, business applications also bring with them a high level of complexities that are thrust on the users of the product.
Almost all business applications have product documentation delivered as part of the software package. The documentation that is shipped with the product is an attempt to communicate the full capability of the software; the documentation also describes the requisite hardware, software and OS of the software system.
User Documentation also called as Product Documentation plays an important role in installation, user training, operational and upgrade phases. At times of blockages, it could also prove to be an effective troubleshooter.
Documents and audience
Typically, users of a software system include operational users, database administrators and, implementation & maintenance teams. Each of these represents a specific audience wishing for precise information on the product.
Hence, I believe a contextual, role based and tailored approach to documentation would be required to improve its relevance.
As the saying goes “Well begun is half done”, effective user training proves crucial for the success of software product deployments. Keeping in view the requirement of our clients, we at Ramco, customize training programs to various user roles in conjunction with the multiple scenarios available to each role to achieve tasks in the system. Our training manuals with screenshots at every step translate spoken/discussed aspects of training programs to ready reference-able material. Thus users are initiated to our software in a systematic way and, in long term these documents serve as “self-help” tools to get jobs done.
Documents such as an Application Reference Manual provide an organization level perspective of the product. These documents are targeted towards business owners and provide a conceptual understanding of the product and how best to leverage those capabilities.
A User Guide document adopts a process-level approach where by key usage scenarios for a process are described. The entire process cycle is enumerated with screenshots to provide a very contextual reference for better understanding. User guide documents are prepared business process-wise, necessarily targeted for process champions/owners/department leads of a user organization.
An On-line Help document is typically screen based and provides information on the specific screen from which the help is invoked. These are targeted towards operational end users.
Database administrators can refer to System Manuals for databases and data dictionaries driving the system.
Implementation and maintenance teams are the typical technically empowered users for whom Installation and Implementation Manuals are prepared. These manuals guide in the roll-out of new features, enhancements, upgrades and versions in the system.
Glossaries containing definitions of key terms in the product also find place in the product documentation.
Documentation can act as effective Change Agents, especially when product functionality changes are introduced, after the initial setup and live operational usage. Advance Notifications provide information on changes in the software that are planned for delivery in the near term. Detailed Enhancement Notifications describe the improvements in the software and recommendations on how best they can be leveraged.
Approach & utility
Adequate focus on software documentation can yield rich benefits in on-boarding users and operational efficiency. A key factor in knowledge transfer - documentation needs to be in sync with every change, be it minor or major in the product.
Ramco Aviation Software, a leading M&E / MRO automation product comes with high quality documentation for all users who interact with the product in different capacities. Ramco also offers a one-of-a-kind user extensible Help feature, whereby users can access relevant documents of their choice from any user interface in the product.
For Ramco Aviation, documentation is a high priority deliverable that users look forward to with every release/enhancement/upgrade.
Therefore, a “one size fits all” approach with standard documentation is not going to help; rather a tiered, contextualized and tailored content will add more value to users.