headshot of smiling woman with long dark hair and glassesMary Dickens, Connectbase
August 1, 2022

Documentation teams are often faced with writing for multiple engineering teams, releases, and products compared to development teams which often have a singular area of focus on a product. It can be challenging to organize and bring together a team with members having different areas of responsibility or who are siloed from one another. Using Agile can help as it is a method designed to respond to change and handle constantly changing environments such as juggling multiple engineering teams with rolling releases. While it is more commonly associated with engineering and development teams it can be used by non-engineering teams as well.

Tip #1 Working Agreements

If you’re part of a writing team that doesn’t have much overlap or open communication with other writers you may find it helpful to draft a working agreement. A working agreement is used to help set guidelines for team members to follow and can help with productivity, mutual understanding between team members, and positive collaboration experiences. Working agreements are typically created to help preserve deadlines and schedules but can be used in a variety of situations ranging from group projects, meetings, and day-to-day work. If you decide to create a working agreement it must respect all team members expectations. Furthermore, it’s important for everyone involved to keep an open mind during the whole process.

Tip #2 Definition of Ready

Writers may find it normal and part of their job to constantly hunt down information from stakeholders about documentation requests. However, this can be a time-consuming task especially if a stakeholder is hard to get hold of. Having a Definition of Ready drafted and available to requestors can help reduce all the hunting and follow ups needed to start work and complete a documentation request. A Definition of Ready is basically a set of guidelines that tells you when a user story is ready to be started. These guidelines help set expectations for people requesting work from you and your team. It also helps give you a reason to say no and to put more of the discovery work back on the requestor.

Tip #3 Definition of Done

Writers who are siloed may have different publishing processes and standards when it comes to creating content. This could create different levels of expectations for writers which could affect the quality of the documentation. Having a Definition of Done available for your team can help with transparency and set expectations with not only the writers but also stakeholders. A Definition of Done is a list of criteria or guidelines that must be met in order for a user story to be considered complete. It ensures each team member knows what is expected of what the team delivers which can be helpful for new members as well.

Steps for creating agreements

Step 1: Find a drafting space

In-person teams: Whiteboard or large sheet of paper. Remote teams: Document that allows for collaboration

Step 2: Set the stage

One person needs to set the stage on why the team is going to create a Working Agreement, Definition of Ready, or Definition of Done. It’s important to make sure your team knows to keep an open mind and to respect all opinions during the whole process from start to finish.

Step 3: Reflect

Spend a few minutes to allow each team member to quietly reflect on what is important to them and your team regarding whichever agreement you decided to start drafting. If you are creating a Working Agreement, you may ask your team to reflect on what teams they see work well together and what those teams do that you could adopt or what could you do to better avoid past mistakes. For creating a Definition of Ready, you may ask your team what information you need in order to write documentation for a release. If you are drafting a Definition of Done, ask your team what does it take for a piece of work to be considered complete and publishable for customers.

Step 4: Draft your agreement

Spend around 10-15 or so minutes drafting some initial ideas on your agreements. Allow for each member to share at least one item.

Step 5: Discuss

Go through the list of ideas and discuss them with your team. During this time you can combine any items that are similar.

Step 6: Revise

Spend time going through steps 3-5 again. You do not have to do this right after you finished your discussion though. However, it is a good idea to periodically revisit and revise all your agreements especially when you gain or lose a team member.