Agile documentation refers to the creation and maintenance of documentation in an agile software development process. It emphasizes “just enough” documentation that is necessary for the current iteration, preferring documentation that responds to specific needs over extensive upfront documentation. The goal is to provide clear and concise information to support the development team while keeping the documentation flexible and updating it as needed throughout the development process.
In this article I’ll present the state of Agile documentation and how it is expected to evolve in 2023 and beyond.
What Does an Agile Approach to Documentation Look Like?
An agile approach to documentation looks different from traditional, waterfall-style documentation practices in several ways:
- Emphasis on just-in-time documentation: Agile prioritizes documentation that is created and updated as needed, rather than extensive upfront documentation.
- Collaborative and iterative: Agile documentation is created and maintained through collaboration between the development team and stakeholders, with a focus on continuous improvement.
- Flexible and adaptive: Agile documentation is designed to be flexible and adaptable, allowing for changes and updates as the project progresses.
- Minimalistic: Agile documentation focuses on providing just enough information to support the development process, avoiding unnecessary detail.
- User-focused: Agile documentation is centered around the needs and perspectives of the users and stakeholders, rather than the development team.
In practice, an agile approach to documentation might involve user stories, wikis, and documentation that is integrated into the development process rather than treated as a separate task.
7 Agile Documentation Challenges
Teams attempting to write and update agile documentation can face several challenges, including:
- Balancing speed and detail: Agile documentation is meant to be lightweight, but it also needs to be detailed enough to support the development process. Striking the right balance between speed and detail can be challenging, especially as the project evolves and requirements change.
- Keeping documentation up to date: Agile projects are highly iterative, which can make it difficult to keep documentation up to date. Documentation that is not updated regularly can become outdated or irrelevant, causing confusion and slowing down the development process.
- Maintaining consistency: In an Agile development process, multiple team members may contribute to documentation, which can make it challenging to maintain consistency in style and format. This can result in documentation that is difficult to navigate and understand, which can slow down the development process.
- Managing collaboration: Collaboration is a key part of the Agile development process, and it is important for team members to be able to share information and feedback on documentation. However, managing collaboration effectively can be challenging, especially when team members are located in different locations or time zones.
- Prioritizing documentation: In an Agile development process, there is often a lot of pressure to prioritize development work over documentation. This can make it difficult to allocate sufficient time and resources to documentation, which can result in documentation that is incomplete or of poor quality.
- Dealing with changing requirements: Agile projects are highly iterative, and requirements can change rapidly. This can make it challenging to keep documentation up-to-date and relevant, as documentation that was created to support one set of requirements may no longer be applicable as the project evolves.
- Ensuring documentation is accessible: Agile projects often involve multiple team members and stakeholders, and it is important for documentation to be accessible and usable by everyone. Ensuring that documentation is stored in a centralized, easily accessible location can be challenging, especially in large or complex projects.
Agile Documentation Trends in 2023 and Beyond
Here are some of the key trends in Agile documentation that can help your organization improve your process and overcome the challenges above.
Documentation automation refers to the use of technology to automate the creation, maintenance and updating of documentation. This can involve the use of tools that generate documentation based on code, data or other sources, as well as tools that streamline the collaborative creation and review of documentation.
In an agile development context, documentation automation can help to increase the efficiency and accuracy of documentation while freeing up time for the development team to focus on other tasks. It can also facilitate the creation of consistent, up-to-date documentation that is always in sync with the latest changes to the code or other project assets.
Some examples of documentation automation tools include:
- Automatic code documentation generators that extract documentation from the source code and generate reference documentation.
- Wiki and documentation management tools that allow for the creation, editing and collaboration on documentation.
- Automated testing and reporting tools that generate documentation on test results and project progress.
Documentation-as-code (DaC) refers to the practice of treating documentation as a first-class artifact in the software development process alongside code and other project assets. This approach aims to integrate documentation into the development process, making it easier to manage, version and maintain.
Documentation-as-code can be achieved through a variety of methods, including:
- Storing documentation in version control systems, such as Git, alongside the code to ensure that documentation is versioned and backed up along with the code. This is especially compatible with a GitOps development process.
- Using markup languages, such as Markdown or reStructuredText, to write documentation, making it easier to format and display the documentation and to convert it to other formats if needed.
- Automating the generation of documentation, such as API reference documentation, based on the code.
The goal is to make documentation a more integral part of the development process, reducing the effort required to create and maintain documentation and improving the accuracy and usefulness of the documentation.
Continuous and Collaborative Documentation
Collaborative documentation refers to the practice of involving multiple stakeholders, including developers, product owners and end users in the creation, maintenance and review of documentation. This approach emphasizes collaboration and communication as key elements of the documentation process.
In an agile development context, collaborative documentation is seen as a way to ensure that documentation is relevant, up-to-date and meets the needs of all stakeholders. This can be achieved through a variety of methods, including:
- User stories and other agile documentation techniques that involve end users in the documentation process.
- Collaborative authoring and review tools, such as wikis and online document editors that allow multiple stakeholders to contribute to and review the documentation in real-time.
- Regular retrospectives and other agile processes that provide opportunities for the development team to review and improve the documentation.
The goal is to create documentation that is accurate, relevant and useful to all stakeholders, while also fostering communication, collaboration and continuous improvement within the development team.
Interactive documentation refers to the practice of creating documentation that is designed to be interactive, allowing users to engage with the information in a dynamic and engaging way. This can include elements such as interactive examples, simulations and tutorials, as well as tools that allow users to experiment with and explore the documentation.
Interactive documentation can provide a number of benefits, including:
- Improving the user experience by making the documentation more engaging and accessible.
- Facilitating a deeper understanding of the product by allowing users to experiment with and explore the documentation in a hands-on way.
- Improving the accuracy and usefulness of the documentation by allowing users to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.
Interactive documentation can be achieved through a variety of methods, including:
- Interactive tutorials and examples that demonstrate how to use the product.
- Simulations and prototypes that allow users to experiment with the product in a safe and controlled environment.
- Tools for creating and maintaining interactive documentation, such as online document editors and wikis.
In conclusion, documentation is an essential aspect of the software development process, and agile development has brought about new trends in the way documentation is created, maintained and used. From documentation automation to interactive documentation, the agile approach is focused on improving the quality and usefulness of documentation while also reducing the administrative burden on the development team.