4 Traps that Undermine Documentation Culture

BY IT GLUE | October 08, 2019

Are you happy with the state of your company’s documentation? For most of you, I’m guessing there are some things you want to improve. And that’s the rub – having the best tool is a great start, but it’s not everything. The best documentation system in the game works best when there is a strong documentation culture to support it. It’s highly unlikely your MSP has an organizational culture expert on staff, which is why you’re bound to have at least one of these traps impeding your documentation culture from being at its greatest level. So let’s unpack the four biggest traps that undermine your documentation culture – and how to get rid of them.

Trap #1 – Your Documentation is a Mess

The better your documentation is, the easier it is to see its value. It’s kind of a catch-22, right? But let’s set aside the folks who don’t even have documentation, because they know what they need to do, and focus on the folks who’ve got a fair bit of documentation but aren’t getting a ton of value from it. Maybe the naming conventions are inconsistent so nobody can find anything. Maybe the architecture is all over the place. These issues usually arise when there is no one person in charge of developing architecture and naming conventions. Make sure you have one person who has the final say over how your documentation will be structured, and that they are communicating effectively with the rest of the team. If every tech documents the way they think is best, you’ll end up with as many documentation styles as techs, if not more. So make sure everybody does it the same way, because that consistency is the key to usability, and usability is the key to extracting value and building a stronger documentation culture. Make the SOP on naming conventions the very first document you load into IT Glue so there’s no guesswork.

Trap #2 – Information Squirrelling is Still a Thing

One of the main reasons for documenting everything is to get information out of people’s heads. To take individual knowledge and make it tribal knowledge. But techs sometimes resist this, because they think if they are the only ones who know something that they are more indispensable. Our advice is to take every opportunity to disavow them of that notion. Make documenting part of the job description, and then track how much everybody is documenting. Map out specific consequences for non-compliance so everybody knows what’s at stake if they don’t start documenting their processes and other critical information. There’s always recalcitrant techs who just don’t get it, and how you want to play that is up to you of course, but we definitely recommend making documentation a non-negotiable part of the job. It might slow folks down for the first little while as they build the documentation up, but once it’s in place, everybody is going to move much, much faster.

Trap #3 – There’s a “Documentation Guy”

Any MSP that has just the one “documentation guy” had better be a one-man MSP. But we’ve heard this from folks before – that they were put in charge of the documentation and it’s a struggle to get anyone else to care. The entire approach of having one person in charge of documentation is misguided, because one person cannot make an entire culture. It’s essential that everybody takes responsibility for documentation, in order to build a proper documentation culture. Before you can say “if everybody is in charge, then nobody is in charge”, let me just say that you do need one person in charge of documentation, in the sense that they set and enforce the naming conventions and architectural standards, but everybody has to be tasked with creating and maintaining documentation. That means everybody, including non-techs, owners, and non-technical staff.

Trap #4 – No Leadership Buy-In

If you’ve ever tried to change the culture of an organization before, you know this. If you haven’t, trust me, this is the one thing you’ll read in every single piece of literature on the subject of org culture change. Leadership needs to drive the bus. Leadership needs to be key advocates and cheerleaders for documentation. The whole point about being a leader is for others to follow your lead.

Repeat the documentation mantra regularly. Work with the service desk manager, the senior techs and anybody else within the organization to ensure that the documentation mantra is repeated early and often. Resources need to be made available, especially when you’re first setting up IT Glue and might need a little overtime documentation blitz to get things up to speed. Leadership also needs to support managerial decisions to discipline employees who aren’t compliant, and to bake documentation into job descriptions. If everybody else thinks the leader is fully engaged in documentation, it will become part of the culture more quickly. If everybody else thinks the leader doesn’t care, your documentation culture could go absolutely nowhere. If you’re the boss, you need to get on board fully, yourself, if you want the rest of the company to do so.

Don’t fall into these traps. Be aware of them, find ways to avoid them, and make sure to always maintain focus on the end goal – an organizational culture where documentation is not just expected, but demanded, by absolutely everybody.

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