Sunday, April 20, 2008

Life as a documentation fairy

Being a business analyst means that, when you show a slight aptitude for doing something, you often get to try out that aptitude on a task that's a few orders of magnitude above 'beginner.' Sometimes, I get to do exciting things, like code, or do graphics, or re-learn CSS. This go around, however, I'm doing documentation. I've learned quite a bit about documentation in the last few weeks.

Nobody likes documentation. Everyone knows they should be documenting a project as they go along. Everyone starts off with the best of intentions. Of course they'll document everything! There'll be a wiki, a discussion list, a note taker for every meeting, glamorous spreadsheets and presentations... And then the end draws near, and in the midst of the final crunch, it occurs to people that, maybe, just maybe, they'd left a few things out. Like an updated server architecture. A few tables of their database. What their application was actually supposed to do in the first place. Little things like that.

Enjoying documentation can make you odd. It's like being a coroner. No one, when they're five, says, "Hey! I want to cut open dead bodies and weigh stomach contents for a living!" Even me, in spite of what you may have heard. No one enters a career and thinks "Gosh, I want people to cringe when they see my email pop into their inbox." So you find odd reasons for liking what you do. Some coroners like the hours, or the strange things one can find lodged in someone's eye socket. I'm finding doing activity diagrams rather soothing.

Everyone thinks they document. It's kind of funny, when you start going around, asking for documentation. What people have is never, ever up to date. The best I've gotten was a graph that was a few months old. It's like being an oncologist in a town of herbal remedy folks. They think they're doing great until they realize they're losing vital bits.

Documentation specialist != therapist. Everyone just thinks it does. No project goes smoothly. None end with everyone thinking everyone else is just the keenest people ever. If you offered a group that had just finished a long, painful project a free vacation to an isolated beach house, I guarantee the only ones who would take it up have malice on the mind. You'd pick them up after a week, and there'd be suspicious bleach stains everywhere. I get this vibe from the venting I get every time I ask someone for something. I keep expecting it to leak into the diagrams I get handed.

Everyone swears they'll be better next time. Like the teens who forget the condoms, they swear, next time, they'll plan ahead. They'll keep track of everything and plan ahead and not toss extra man hours at what is a not a man power issue. Really.

Next time.


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