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Successful User Adoption: A Primer on the Documentation Process
Steve Judge Group Manager - Education | June 7, 2021
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Co-authored by Brian Thompson

Documentation is a crucial part of any organization’s useradoption program. However, even the best documentation can fail to deliver the desired result if end users can’t access it easily.

---By Steve Judge and Brian Thompson

Most organizations understand the need for documentation when implementing new or upgraded software, but the days of scouring through reams of printed or online manuals to find help are (or should be) over. These days, users rightfully demand high-quality experiences, whether it’s access to quick reference material or in-application contextual help based on tasks in an application. Creating relevant documentation, and delivering it in an easily accessible way, are important keys for unlocking the door to successful user adoption.

Having worked with many organizations on software implementation projects that affect end users, we’ve found that following a thoughtful documentation process improves user adoption and delivers greater value from software investments.

Creating relevant documentation, and delivering it in an easily accessible way, are important keys for unlocking the door to successful user adoption.

In this post, we’ll provide essential insights for creating and delivering effective documentation.

What is Documentation?

In a software implementation, documentation describes the software application to users. It includes technical manuals and information that instructs users how to perform tasks with the software. Documentation is often accessible in the application itself in the form of help pages.

What Types of Documentation Do End Users Require?

Over the years, we’ve found that when implementing new or upgraded software, the following documentation best meets end-user needs:

  • Business Processes—the specific activities or tasks an organization carries out to achieve specific business goals, such as purchasing raw materials. This could include both system- and non-system tasks.
  • System Tasks—tasks that users perform when using the software, such as creating a purchase order.
  • Quick Reference Information—instructions on how to use the software. This could be highly detailed or very simple, depending on what your users need.

What are the Best Documentation Delivery Methods?

The ideal documentation delivery system is searchable.

The ideal documentation delivery system is searchable. Whatever system you develop, end users should be able to access and search documentation, including:

  • User Guides—providing detailed information about business processes and system tasks. User guides normally include both text and illustrations (most often screenshots) to enhance the user experience. Access is typically via an online platform, such as a web or intranet site, and allows users to print hard copies if they want.
  • In-Application Help—providing users with easy access to quick reference information they need while working in the live software application to assist with performing routine tasks.

What’s the Best Way to Develop Documentation?

For every organization we work with, our expert team develops comprehensive documentation as part of their user-adoption program. Here’s the best way to conduct the development process, based on documentation we’ve completed for countless organizations. It divides the process into phases that address each stage in a software implementation project, clearly defining goals, deliverables and activities for each phase:

  1. Analyze. Working closely with the project team to determine the implementation’s scope of business processes and system tasks, we analyze the organization’s business process documentation as well as the system design and test scripts to build the foundation of the documentation library.The result: a preliminary table of contents and selection of the documentation delivery method(s).
  2. Prototype and Design. We create documentation prototypes and templates based on the above analysis and selected delivery method(s). We also involve users in this phase by asking for their help with usability testing of prototypes to validate the design. As a result, we create documentation that meets the users’ specific needs.
  3. Develop. After validating the design, we create the documentation. The documentation also undergoes a multi-step review process with the project team, and we make necessary updates or revisions before approval and publication.
  4. Implement. Following publication, we work with the project team to deploy the documentation to end users. This could be via a web or intranet site, a content management platform, and/or a printable format.
  5. Evaluate. Finally, after deploying documentation to end users, we evaluate its effectiveness through end-user surveys, questionnaires and interviews. If users have an issue with the documentation, the documentation team makes improvements.

Documentation is never complete: With each new software upgrade or release, it will need updating, so set time aside to review documentation, identify missing information, and improve frequently used documentation.

The Key Take-Away

When implementing new software, documentation is a crucial part of an organization’s user-adoption program. Whether it’s detailed user manuals, quick reference material or in-application help, you can’t afford to skip creating and deploying documentation that helps users get acquainted with your software. Only then will your organization unlock the door to user adoption and drive real value from your software investments.

Whether it’s detailed user manuals, quick reference material or in-application help, you can’t afford to skip creating and deploying documentation that helps users get acquainted with your software.

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