Documentation is Software

I have a fairly technical job, but most of my time is spent writing, and reading, documents. Much of it is email, but the largest part of my work output is more formal documentation: design documents, HOWTO guides, network diagrams. I currently work with a team of a dozen or so people who spend every day churning out documents. Many of the jobs I’ve had in the past 10 years have consisted largely of writing documentation, and it has become obvious to me of late that I am writing more than just words on a screen: this is software.

In the modern company, most documentation is stored the same way as software: as softcopy on disk somewhere, though usually just someone’s C: drive. Documents are created, copies are printed or emailed around, people provide feedback and the document is edited, spelling mistakes and other bugs are corrected, and the document generally makes its way from a draft (alpha?, beta?) to a final version. The process mirrors that of software creation with only one major difference: documents are not active in the way that software is. Software does something, while documents just are.

Given that documents are so similar to software, I find it surprising that most of the organisations I work for do not use similar processes and tools for document management that they routinely use for software development, yet an incredible amount of the value of an organisation is held in these documents. If it isn’t, then you have to wonder why so much time, and money, is spent writing them. I believe it is because this conceptual leap, that documents are software, has not been made that causes organisations to continue to handle documents in fundamentally the same way as when they only existed on physical pieces of dead tree.

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