Ah, the engineer. The engineer is an elusive and majestic creature capable of amazing feats of creativity, ingenuity, and skill with the tap of a keyboard. Watching an engineer operate in their natural environment can be quite an impressive display.
The only problem with these majestic beasts is when we fail to document their movements. After all, how can we hope to harness their abilities if we know nothing of their characteristics, movements, and body of work? Luckily, there is an answer: documentation.
Having a strong, capable engineering team is a huge asset to any company. The amount of work and knowledge that comes out of a solid group is remarkable. The only drawback comes when these things are not documented. Instead of getting things done efficiently and effectively, too much time is used up trying to track down cause and solution. That’s what makes strong, reliable engineering documentation so important.
Return on Investment
We all know that the bottom line is everything. In today’s market, we all want to find a way to save cost while increasing performance. There are many ways that the ROI can be shown, but we will focus on two here:
- Technical support prevention. If an engineer or engineers complete a job, you want to know that someone can drive when the keys are handed over. That’s where the documentation comes in. Solid end-user documentation or technical data gives the customer somewhere to turn for help. As long as the procedures, processes, and systems are documented properly, everything is within reach and easily attainable without the added cost of pulling an engineer back in.
- Strong documentation makes more difficult tasks a one-person job. The last thing you want is too many people working on what you thought was a simple task. If documentation is in place and accessible, there are no extra hands or minds involved. In less time than it would take to try and track down someone to answer a question, the individual performing the task can track down his answers and keep moving forward, keeping the task in a proper perspective, man-hour wise.
If you didn’t say it, you didn’t do it
Another reason is even more tangible. There have been many important events and inventions in history, and there is a simple reason we know about them. That is, these events were documented. If no one said it, it never happened.
The same can be said of technical work. Even if the best group of engineers in the country comes in and cranks out work for you, would it matter if you had no idea what they did? If they left and no one knew what they built or how to use it, it would be lost. Engineering documentation makes sure that there is visibility to the work and to the procedures and processes that are there for you to take advantage of that work.
What it looks like
Technical Documentation can come in many forms. There are User Guides, Testing Procedures, Standard Operating Procedures, architecture, and many others. But you should know it when you see it. When the work is finished, you should recognize the associated documentation on site. It should be consistent in look, feel, and voice. When you pick that document up, you should know what it is for and where it came from as soon as you look at it.
But most important is that you should be able to use it without help. Great documentation is designed to be stand-alone. It should not generate a call, it should prevent calls. It should not cause more confusion, it should answer the questions. It should be clear and precise to be easily accessible, easy to navigate, and easy to digest and apply. If it is not any of these things, why use it in the first place?
Where this leaves you
There is no doubt that having an industry-leading set of engineers do work for you will send you to the front of your industry. But much like a Loch Ness Monster sighting, seeing is believing. Grainy footage shot through a screen door at 2 miles is ok for building intrigue. But are you willing to bet your livelihood on it? Whether you are creating cutting-edge software, systems, or processes or you are hunting legendary creatures, the proof is in the pudding. And in our industry, that means the most solid documentation in the business.
Saying you saw some amazing engineering feats are great. But having the proof, now that is what makes history.