List of principles for agile documentation (mostly) derived from software development principles.

Principles

Principles are abstract rules to gain desirable results.

What works for us

 

Principles need to support a desired quality and be

  1. clearly worded
  2. consistent
  3. no further reducible

We provide references to further resources, helping readers to form their own informed view on this topic. But in the end the borders between values, principles, and practices are based on opinions and experiences and therefore blurry. Readers will come to different conclusions and categorizations.

In the end what matters is simply not the answer to the question "Couldn't is been done differently?" (yes, it can!), but "If we do it that other way, wouldn't it have more positive impact on what we do?".

The lists of principles and practices are meant as a source of inspiration to be adopted and applied to the reader's own way of working. It is not a dogmatic set of rules.

This is by definition a work in progress. If you have a contribution to make, please get in touch!

The following principles help to create desirable qualities or values in documentation. So these principles establish and maintain an effective and efficient communication with the stakeholders of a project.

Actionable Practices

 

In order to make principles more actionable, teams develop practices.

The following lists group principles by their domain in which they are typically applied. Since our background is software development, you'll find some basic principles associated with this domain, which would also easily be applied to other domains.

Documentation Principles

The following principles are pure documentation principles and have no relative in software design or in the agile or lean mindset.

Name Short Description Supported Values
Prefer direct communication between stakeholders. After the meeting brainstorm about which information is relevant to be written down.
Prefer to invest more in preserving information with long-term relevance to the stakeholders.
Write documents that support transmitting knowledge to many.

Design Principles

The following principles of software design also apply to documentation.

Name Short Description Supported Values
Redundant information is hard to maintain, keeping it in-sync. Therefore strive for reducing redundancy by defining one authoritative location for each piece of information.
Keep your documentation simple. Assume that authors have relevant information for the project in their mind, but not necessarily the skills and resources to communicate it. Therefore make it very simply and joyful for them to share their expertise.
Documents should not reference details in other documents that may change without notice.
Be open for extension, closed for modification.
Documentation should appear to the reader as being written by one single person. Uniformity reduces the chance of astonishment. The principles applies to all areas of documentation, including style and organization.
There should either be no need for additional documentation for an artifact or that documentation should be as close as possible to the artifact. This make it more probable that the documentation changes with the artifact and therefore keeps up-to-date.
Reduce the amount of documents with overlapping information. Also divide the concerns regarding the formatting and - as far as possible - the structure from the content. Whenever there are different aspects, consider if handling them independently would make things easier.
A document should focus to answer one question. This way documents can be more easily reused and combined.
A document should only reference documents that are not less stable than itself.
Assume that an information is not needed to be written down unless proven otherwise.

Agile/Lean Principles

The following agile and lean principles also apply to documentation.

Name Short Description Supported Values
Documentation is often created in a process of constant change. Therefore project documentation is never complete.
Documentation is created and maintained collaboratively by the whole team.

Resources

More on documentation values and documentation practices:

Values
Values represent characteristics or qualities of documentation that are important to readers, writers, and sponsors.
Practices
Practices to collaborate on agile documentation.