In custom software development, technical documentation includes all written materials about creating software products. It's important to explain how the product works, keep everyone on the same page, and answer questions from stakeholders and developers. Good documentation is crucial to avoid misunderstandings and ensure the software meets expectations.
Integrio is a reliable software and web development provider with industry-specific expertise and a proven track record. Building advanced custom solutions includes providing proper technical documentation, so today, we will share our experience in this area.
What other benefits does such documentation bring? How does it help at different stages of the product development life cycle? What are the types of technical documentation, and what materials do they include? And finally, how to write good documentation? We will answer all these questions in our article.
The Benefits of Technical Documentation in SDLC
Documentation plays a crucial role in the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) as a valuable resource for the various stakeholders. It offers several benefits for improving project success and development efficiency:
Improved Decision Making
Documentation provides a centralized and reliable source of technical data that enables project teams to make informed decisions quickly. As a result, your employees can access relevant documents without extensive searches.
Contextual User Help
Documentation integrated into the interface allows users to get immediate help and guidance while using the application. It enhances the usability of the software and improves the overall user experience.
Comprehensive software documentation offers detailed information about the product's features and capabilities. So customers easily understand the product's value and functionality.
Reduced Strain on Tech Support
Technical documentation empowers users to troubleshoot and resolve technical issues independently, reducing the need to contact support. This self-service issue resolution leads to time and cost savings.
Documentation serves as a repository for recording and preserving ideas related to the software throughout the project lifecycle. They can be implemented in future updates or projects as a source of insights and innovations.
ZRoadmap for Further Projects
Technical documentation outlines plans, goals, and essential product features, effectively setting the direction for future projects. It helps unify the team around common objectives.
Documentation consolidates all essential product data in one place. That means project stakeholders and developers gain crucial data without direct communication. This fosters effective collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Technical Documentation through the Development Process
Technical documentation in software development covers key steps — from planning to deployment and support. These stages ensure that software projects are well-defined, effectively managed, and successfully delivered.
Let's overview each stage in detail:
In the planning stage, the goal is to determine the viability of the software solution. This includes assessing market demand, identifying user needs, and defining the project's scope. Documentation should provide insights into market research findings, user personas, and the desired features and services.
At this stage, the goal is to ensure the project aligns with user expectations. Stakeholders collaborate to gather and define project requirements. Technical documentation includes detailed software requirements specification (SRS), task lists, project timelines, and test parameters.
The design stage involves architectural planning and setting the project's foundation. Related documentation encompasses the distribution of responsibilities among team members, budget allocation, project timeline, chosen technologies, architectural design, project limitations, and risk assessments.
Development and Implementation
Developers use the technical specifications and design documents to write code scripts and build the software according to the project's requirements. That's why you should highlight code comments and documentation, coding standards, and version control information.
The testing phase is dedicated to validating the platform's functionality, as well as identifying and fixing bugs. Ensure that the software meets both user expectations and quality standards. Test plans, cases, and reports are essential technical documents during this phase.
Deployment and Support
After successful testing, make sure the software continues to perform optimally and meets key performance indicators after release. Support documentation includes operational procedures, maintenance instructions, troubleshooting guides, and system monitoring details.
Agile and Waterfall Approaches
Agile and Waterfall are two distinct approaches to technical documentation that align with development methodologies. Each has its own set of principles, processes, and characteristics that influence how documentation is created, managed, and used.x
Waterfall emphasizes sequential and linear project phases, with documentation often created upfront and in a structured manner. Documentation serves as a contract that guides the development process.
Its key characteristics include:
A clear and well-defined structure for project management and progress tracking
Each development phase must be completed before the next one begins
Detailed requirements, design specifications, and test plans are being created before coding begins
Customer involvement in documentation creation is typically limited to the early stages of the project
It is less adaptable to changes in project requirements or scope
The Agile approach aligns with Agile software development methodologies, such as Scrum and Kanban. It emphasizes collaboration, flexibility, and iterative development.
Core features include:
Agile documentation is developed in small increments and evolves over time
It encourages close collaboration between technical writers, developers, and other team members
Agile documentation is designed to be user-friendly, concise, and accessible
Documentation is continuously updated and improved based on user feedback and changing project requirements
The choice between Agile and Waterfall approaches depends on the nature of the project, its requirements, and the preferred development methodology.
Agile documentation is best suited for projects with evolving requirements, frequent changes, and a need for continuous improvement.
Waterfall documentation is more appropriate for projects with stable, well-defined requirements that can be thoroughly planned upfront.
Types of Technical Documentation
Software development documentation ensures that all stakeholders share a common vision and facilitates effective collaboration toward achieving project goals. This documentation serves various purposes:
Aiding customers in using the software
Providing development teams with essential information
Assisting marketing efforts by explaining the product's value to users
Let's dive into a more detailed exploration of the types of technical documentation:
Product documentation provides information and guidance to users, customers, and stakeholders. It is a vital component of a product's overall user experience and includes various documents, such as tech specifications, requirements, business logic, and manuals.
System documentation is integral to product documentation, especially for complex products that contain software or complex technical components. It describes the system and its parts, helping engineers and stakeholders understand the underlying technology.
A product requirements document (PRD) is a comprehensive guide that outlines what a product should accomplish, its features, functionalities, and behavior. Here are the key elements typically included in a PRD:
Roles and responsibilities of product owner, development team members, and stakeholders
The primary goals and objectives of the project
Assumptions about user behavior, market conditions, or technical constraints
User stories that describe specific interactions with the product
The conditions that must be met for the user story to be considered complete
Design explorations, wireframes, or mockups that visually represent UI/UX
User experience (UX) design documentation focuses on creating a positive and effective user experience for a digital product or application. It encompasses various stages, from research to design:
User personas with their behavior, preferences, and motivations
User scenarios focused on the user's actions and interactions with the system
An overview of all possible user scenarios
A visual representation of user stories to denote the required functions
The UX style guide defines the rules and guidelines for various user interface (UI) elements and content types. It focuses on how these elements should be arranged and interact with each other to ensure a consistent and user-friendly experience.
Software Architecture Design
Unlike product requirement documents focusing on what to build, architecture design documentation delves into how to build it. This is a blueprint for the software's structural and functional aspects:
The project's main objectives, the problems it aims to solve, and the desired outcomes
Architecture and design principles that will shape the software system
Connection of user stories with associated business processes and related scenarios
Key services, modules, components, and their roles within the system
Diagrams and graphical representations that illustrate the system's architecture and design principles
Project's timeline, deadlines for completion, and functional milestones
Source Code Document
A source code document provides insights into how a software's source code works. Its primary audience is software engineers and developers who need to understand, modify, or maintain the code. The document's key elements include the following:
HTML generation framework or any other framework used in the code
The data binding mechanisms, including one-way or two-way data binding, its libraries, or custom implementations
Design patterns and examples of how they are applied in specific parts of the code
Security measures and practices, including authentication and authorization mechanisms
Architectural principles like SOLID (Single Responsibility, Open/Closed, Liskov Substitution, Interface Segregation, Dependency Inversion), DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself), or KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
Quality Assurance (QA) documentation provides a structured approach to testing and quality management. Here are the key components of QA documentation:
A quality management plan outlines the methods, processes, and procedures
Test strategy that includes information about team structure, resource requirements, and priorities during testing
Test plan with a list of features or functionalities, testing methods and techniques, timeframes, and roles and responsibilities
Test case specifications describe the actions to be taken to verify each product feature or functionality
Test checklists that help track completed tests and record the number of failed tests
Maintenance and Help Guide
A maintenance and help guide assists users and administrators in maintaining, troubleshooting, and getting the most out of a system or software product. This includes:
Solutions or workarounds for common problems
Step-by-step instructions for users and administrators
Guidelines on data management, performance optimization, and security measures
Security measures to protect the system from vulnerabilities and potential threats
The system's architecture and functionality
Dependencies between various parts of the system
Update and maintenance schedule
Contact information for technical support or customer service teams
FAQs that address common questions and concerns
User and administrator roles and responsibilities
User documentation is a guide to end-users and system administrators. It describes how to effectively use, troubleshoot, install, and maintain a product or system. User documentation empowers users to make the most of a product, reduce support requests, and enhance overall user satisfaction.
End-user documentation helps users effectively employ a software product or system to meet their needs. It typically includes:
Quick start guide with brief functionality overview
Complete manual with installation procedures, hardware and software requirements, a thorough description of features, guidelines for optimal use, examples of inputs and outputs, troubleshooting tips, etc
Step-by-step instructions for problem diagnosis and solutions
Video tutorials with visual demonstrations of how to perform specific tasks
Tooltips, pop-ups, or guided tours
System Administrators' Documentation
System administrators' documentation provides the information system administrators need to install, configure, maintain, and troubleshoot a software product or system. It is distinct from end-user documentation, as it focuses on the technical aspects of managing the software rather than how to use it.
System administrators' documentation consists of two parts:
The functional description document provides an overview of the product's functionalities from an administrative perspective.
The system administrator guide covers various aspects of system administration, including installation, configuration, maintenance, troubleshooting, integration, security, scaling, and performance.
Process documentation focuses on capturing and describing the processes, activities, and workflows associated with product development and project execution. It differs from product documentation, which describes the final product or system.
Work Plans, Schedules, and Estimates
Work plans, schedules, and estimates are essential to project management and process documentation. They provide a structured approach to planning, executing, and monitoring project activities.
Work plans typically include the project objectives, scope, work breakdown structure (WBS), task dependencies and assignments, timelines, milestones, etc.
Schedules provide a timeline for project activities, outlining when tasks should be started and completed. They can take different forms, including Gantt charts, timelines, or calendars.
Estimates predict the resources (time, cost, personnel) required to complete tasks. They are crucial for budgeting, resource allocation, and overall project planning.
Reports and Metrics
Reports and metrics provide insights into how a project is progressing and how resources are being utilized.
Reports are documents or presentations summarizing key information about a project, its status, and performance. You should generate them regularly, such as daily, weekly, or monthly, and share them with project stakeholders, team members, and leadership.
Metrics are quantitative measures used to assess various aspects of a project, including its performance, quality, efficiency, and progress.
Working papers are a repository for engineers' ideas, thoughts, and technical insights during the implementation phase of a project. These documents help capture and preserve engineers' knowledge, brainstorming sessions, problem-solving strategies, and code-related information.
Standards are guidelines, rules, and best practices that teams and individuals follow to ensure the project's consistency, quality, and maintainability. They encompass:
Coding standards with indentation and formatting, naming conventions, commenting and documentation, error handling, code modularity, and coding practices
User experience (UX) standards, including visual design, navigation and information architecture, accessibility, interaction design, and consistency.
Agile Product Roadmaps
Agile product roadmaps are essential documents that outline a project's strategic direction, goals, and priorities. They help guide development teams and stakeholders throughout the SDLC.
There are three primary types of Agile product roadmaps:
The strategic roadmap outlines the overarching vision and long-term goals of the project. They often group tasks and features into themes, representing connected sets of activities. This emphasizes high-level objectives and strategic direction.
Technology or IT roadmap provides specific information about technical requirements, implementation strategies, and deliverables. This helps the development team understand the technical challenges and solutions involved.
The release plan focuses on setting strict timeframes for releases. They are primarily concerned with deadlines and schedules for delivering specific features or product increments.
7 Steps For Writing Useful Technical Documentation
Writing useful technical documentation in software development ensures effective communication and project clarity. You should avoid providing too much information, having unstructured content, or offering insufficient details.
Understand the Document's Goals and Target Audience
Define the primary purpose and objectives of the document.
Decide what topics, processes, or functionalities will be addressed within it.
Determine who is your primary audience — developers, system administrators, end-users, stakeholders, or a combination of these groups.
Assess the technical knowledge and expertise of the intended audience.
Consider what the audience hopes to gain from the document, what challenges they may face, and what questions they will likely have.
Recognize the preferred communication channels and formats of the audience.
Be aware of any accessibility requirements or accommodations needed for users with disabilities.
Gather all relevant information and materials needed for documentation. This may include project specifications, user requirements, design documents, code, and existing documentation.
Collaborate with subject matter experts (SMEs), dedicated developers, and other team members to ensure data accuracy and completeness.
Plan the Structure
Create a list of section headings that will form the document's outline.
Plan the logical sequence in which the sections and topics will be presented.
Establish a hierarchical structure where higher-level sections provide an overview and sub-sections offer detailed information.
Determine where visual elements such as images, diagrams, charts, or illustrations should be incorporated to enhance understanding.
Write Concise Content
Assemble the text according to your structure.
Incorporate visual aids such as diagrams, illustrations, screenshots, and charts to supplement textual explanations.
Include real-world examples and use cases to demonstrate how to employ the software or follow procedures.
Review the documentation for accuracy, clarity, and completeness.
Edit for grammar, spelling, and consistency in formatting and terminology.
Test Software Development Documentation
Explore all materials and external links to ensure their safety.
Make sure that the document does not contain confidential data.
Check if all navigation elements are working properly and there are no broken links.
Examine for usability issues.
Review and Edit
Attract a subject matter expert (SME) after the first and final drafts to review.
Set up peer-review sessions to ensure that the content is useful and accessible.
Ask a project stakeholder or someone outside to identify areas where readers may become lost or confused.
Edit your technical documentation following the feedback you received.
Keep It Up-to-Date
Maintain the documentation as the project evolves. Update it to reflect changes, enhancements, or new features.
Indicate the document's version and update history.
Solicit feedback from users and stakeholders and make improvements as needed.
Best Practices for Your Technical Documentation
Several common practices can be applied to the technical documentation:
Find the right balance, avoiding both excessive and minimal documentation while considering the project's complexity.
Avoid jargon and technical terms that the audience may not understand without explanation.
Tailor your documentation to the audience, whether it's end-users, stakeholders, or your technical team, using language and terminology they can understand.
Use links to external resources, such as websites, articles, or research papers, that provide in-depth information about the discussed topic.
Implement cross-links between files for effective navigation, ensuring a smooth user flow through your documentation.
Include glossaries, especially in external documents, to clarify terms and establish a common language among stakeholders, team members, and users.
Maintain and update your software documentation systematically, following a schedule or tying updates to development releases. Consider using version control tools.
Embrace a collaborative approach to documentation within your Agile team, involving programmers and testers, sharing drafts, and encouraging feedback and contributions from all team members.
Consider hiring a technical writer, ideally with an engineering background, to manage your documentation effectively and integrate them as part of your team for seamless cooperation.
Create Technical Documentation with Integrio
Technical documentation plays a pivotal role in the software development. It serves as the glue that binds project stakeholders, developers, and end-users together. With such materials, you'll ensure everyone is on the same page and that the software product meets expectations.
Whether it's creating comprehensive user guides, detailed system architecture diagrams, or maintaining up-to-date documentation, your efforts will be crowned with success. You'll get smoother development processes, reduced misunderstandings, and improved user experiences.
You already know how to create good technical documentation step by step. But if you need assistance creating custom software from scratch, building a web app, a SaaS product or AI/ML-powered solution, legacy system modernization, etc. — contact Integrio for project outsourcing.
Software technical documentation is a comprehensive set of written materials that provide detailed information about a software system, its design, functionality, and usage. It is a reference guide for developers, users, and other stakeholders. This documentation is essential for understanding, maintaining, and troubleshooting software solutions.
In Waterfall, documentation is extensive and created upfront, often before development starts, encompassing detailed requirements, design, and planning documents. Agile documentation is more iterative and just-in-time, focusing on minimal essential documentation at each development iteration, with a continuous feedback and refinement process.
To create effective software documentation, understand its goals and target audience. Gather relevant information from developers, stakeholders, and other sources, ensuring you have a clear grasp of the product's functionality and purpose. Plan the document structure, write clear and concise content, use visual aids when necessary, and keep the documentation up-to-date.