One of the myths I have to bust frequently is that agile teams avoid all documentation. That’s just not true. Agile teams value written documentation, but believe that most projects benefit from writing less.
So, agile teams try to shift from documents to discussion. Even so, most teams find that some documentation remains helpful and necessary. So the question becomes, how do you tell which documents are helpful and which are not?
One way is to schedule a documentation-review meeting with the team. Prepare by printing out all the documentation from your current (or a recent but similar) project. For very lengthy documents, feel free to print just the first section or even just the title page. The point of this exercise is to show how much written documentation was produced and, to a lesser degree, to show the proportions in which it was created.
Next, sort the documents into stacks based on type: technical design documents in one pile, requirements documents in another, end user documentation in another, and so on. Then ask the team to sort each stack from the most frequently used on one end of the table to documents that were never used once they written at the other end.
Expect to encounter debate as the team works through this. One team member will insist a document was useful; another will say it wasn’t. Encourage the discussion, steering it whenever possible to help uncover things the team might not otherwise know. Note any documents that were intended for one purpose but used for something different and documents that you thought were essential but were not used at all.
Once the documents are in priority order, discuss which documents are helpful (and should continue to be produced) and which are not (and could be eliminated).
Then, see if you can take it one step further. For each type of document the team has agreed to continue producing, ask the team to brainstorm alternatives that involve talking more and writing less.
Again, I’m not suggesting you eliminate useful or required documentation. The goal is merely to help a team shift from documents to discussions. Taking the steps I’ve just described should help your team do that.
And that will help you succeed with agile,
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