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Building Best Practices and Procedure Documentation for Developers

Posted by Stephen Wrighton on 14 Jun 2023

How to Build Your Documentation

Building best practices and procedure documentation for developers can be an involved process. However, it is critical to the success of your team and can lead to increased productivity, improved code quality, and a more harmonious working environment. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to build this documentation:

  1. Identify Your Objectives: First, you need to know why you’re creating the documentation. Are you trying to streamline onboarding? Do you want to standardize development practices? Is the goal to improve code quality? Knowing your objectives can help you decide what topics to cover and how to structure your document.

  2. Define Your Audience: Understanding who will use your documentation is key to making it effective. Are you writing for seasoned developers or newcomers? Are they familiar with your company’s tech stack or not? The answers will guide your writing style, the topics you cover, and the depth of detail you provide.

  3. Gather Input from the Team: Developers are the people who will be using the document, so it’s crucial to get their input. They can provide insights into what they struggle with, what they wish they’d known when they started, or areas where there’s a lack of consistency. This will ensure that the documentation meets their needs and is adopted by the team.

  4. Outline the Documentation: Break down the documentation into key sections like code style guides, development workflows, testing procedures, code review processes, common problems and solutions, tool usage, etc. Depending on the complexity of your system, you may want to break it down further into subsections.

  5. Write the First Draft: Start with the high-level overview for each section and then go into detail. Use clear, concise language and avoid jargon where possible. Use examples and screenshots where it helps to clarify a point.

  6. Include References to External Resources: In cases where an external guide covers a topic thoroughly and accurately, there is no need to reinvent the wheel - link to these resources instead.

  7. Review and Revise: Have others on your team review the document and provide feedback. They may find errors, unclear areas, or important topics you missed. Revise the document based on their feedback.

  8. Keep It Up-To-Date: Development practices evolve and change, so your documentation should too. Establish a process for updating the document regularly. Make sure everyone knows how to propose changes.

  9. Make It Accessible: The documentation should be easy to access and navigate. Consider using a platform designed for documentation, like Confluence or ReadTheDocs, and make sure all developers know where to find it.

  10. Encourage Adoption: If developers don’t use the documentation, all your effort will be for nothing. Encourage adoption by referring to the document in meetings, during code reviews, and when helping team members. Make it a part of your team’s culture.

By following these steps, you can create a living, breathing document that helps your developers do their best work and keeps your team operating smoothly.

What Should I Have As Documentation?

A comprehensive list of policies and procedures for a development team can vary based on the specific needs of the organization and the nature of the projects being developed. However, the following are some common examples:

  1. Code Review Policy: Guidelines on how code should be reviewed, who should review it, and the timeline for review.

  2. Version Control Procedure: Guidelines on how to use version control systems, such as Git, including branch naming conventions, commit message guidelines, and merge strategies.

  3. Code Style Guide: Defines the coding style, conventions, and best practices that developers should follow to ensure consistency across the codebase.

  4. Testing Policy: This outlines the types of tests to be written (unit tests, integration tests, etc.), when and how to write them, and the minimum acceptable test coverage.

  5. Deployment Procedure: Detailed steps on how to deploy the software in different environments (development, staging, production), including rollback strategies.

  6. Security Policy: This includes guidelines on secure coding practices, data protection procedures, and how to handle security incidents.

  7. Onboarding Procedure: A guide for getting new team members up to speed on the team’s processes and the codebase.

  8. Bug Reporting and Triage Procedure: Defines how to report bugs, who is responsible for triaging them, and the process of assigning and fixing bugs.

  9. Performance Optimization Policy: Guidelines for maintaining and improving the performance of the code. This can include rules around load testing and profiling.

  10. Documentation Procedure: How and when to create documentation for the code and systems, including comment style in code and the procedure for maintaining external documentation.

  11. Disaster Recovery and Backup Policy: Defines how data is backed up, how often, who is responsible, and the procedure for recovering data in case of a disaster.

  12. Conflict Resolution Procedure: A method for handling disagreements within the team, either related to the code or interpersonal issues.

Remember, the specific policies and procedures can vary widely depending on the team, the work they’re doing, and the tools they’re using. It’s important to regularly review and update these policies to ensure they remain relevant and effective.

But Why Bother?

Development teams should have defined policies and procedures for several reasons:

  1. Consistency: When all team members follow the same procedures, it leads to consistency in the work. This makes it easier to read and maintain the code, collaborate with others, and onboard new team members.

  2. Efficiency: Clear policies and procedures streamline the workflow by removing uncertainty. Developers know what to do and how to do it, which allows them to focus on their tasks and reduces the time wasted figuring out how to proceed.

  3. Quality Control: Policies like code review and testing procedures help to catch bugs and errors before they reach the production stage, improving the overall quality of the software.

  4. Communication: Well-documented procedures act as a point of reference during discussions and can resolve or prevent disputes within the team. They can also make it easier to communicate with stakeholders outside the team, such as project managers or clients.

  5. Risk Management: Certain procedures, like those related to security and disaster recovery, are crucial for managing risks. They ensure that the team is prepared for problems and can respond effectively when they occur.

  6. Knowledge Preservation: Procedures help preserve the team’s collective knowledge. If a key team member leaves, others can refer to the documentation to understand their reasoning and methods.

In essence, defined policies and procedures create a structure that facilitates collaboration, promotes high-quality output, and mitigates risk, leading to a more productive and harmonious development environment.

Image provided by Shot by Beatriz Pérez Moya

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