As an IT consulting company focusing on infrastructure, our overarching goal is to complete our clients’ projects with the best possible work. We provide robust documentation as part of that work for every project. Being on the other side, when I hired IT companies, I found documentation to be elusive. It’s simply not common for IT consulting companies to create, maintain and ultimately provide documentation. That has to change!
Documentation is not natural for IT professionals, especially those that spend a lot of time troubleshooting (such as Help Desk). I believe this is because they are focused on fixing a problem, one they hope not to see again. Often, the act of documentation is an afterthought: perhaps an external audit requires it, forcing the IT group to put together notes sometimes months after a project is completed. This is not helpful to the IT team, auditors or the company.
The purpose of documentation is to reference important information during and after a project. At System of Systems, each project starts with documentation: moments after a project is explained and assigned, I ask “where is your documentation”. I expect to see a blank document that is ready to take on documentation.
Again, the purpose of documentation is to reference important information during and after a project. One part of documentation is to record change-management. This is great during troubleshooting when, for example, many pieces of software are removed, added or modified. Having a simple Google Drive doc with a number list is all you need.
For larger projects that require many people, Slack is a simple way to track change-management. Having a separate channel that lists changes, such as “increased memory on virtual server due to recent slow performance”, is a great way to communicate important information.
A rule we use at System of Systems is the “2 minute documentation rule”: spend 2 minutes every hour to quickly document what you’ve done. No more than 2 minutes. This relieves IT professionals from wasting time on details, making them focus on the important parts.
One of the points I stress is not to have professional documentation. Often people spend more time formatting a pretty document than realizing the goal: to have important information during and after a project. If we need documentation to share in a formal setting, such as a Sarbanes-Oxley audit, we will then take the existing documentation and format it accordingly.
Here are some ways you can see if your IT company, IT team or anyone else involved in project has great documentation:
- Do they ever ask basic information over and over again, such as “what is the password”, “what is the name of the server” or “what is the CFO’s phone number?“. This shows they are not documenting basic information. If you’re paying them hourly, then they are wasting your money.
- Can they quickly put together a document that shows what has been done so far? Or another way to put it, “What have we been paying you for?”. We love Basecamp to post project updates, allowing us to easily and quickly share these updates with you in just a few minutes.
Proper documentation is one part of an overall strategy for completing IT projects. When projects are done, documentation is done. You paid for work, so make sure you get your valuable documentation.
Andre Preoteasa is the founder and CEO of System of Systems IT Consultants in Newark, NJ.