Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Communicating more effectively as a job and career skill set 8: communicating for the here and now and for documentation purposes

This is my eighth installment to a series on what is one of the most important, and also one of the most commonly problematical of all workplace skills: communicating with others, and as an effective two (or more) way process (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 342 and following for Parts 1-7.)

I have been focusing up to now on communicating with and to a here-and-now, immediate audience. But I have also at least recurringly noted throughout this, that we also document for the record, and communicate with future possible audiences in mind.

One of the considerations that enters in here, which I have already been noting, is one of detail and of thinking through and knowing what details to include when you communicate. Depending on the nature of any due diligence reasons for documenting in detail, your goal is probably going to be one of thoroughness and inclusivity. And if you are documenting in accordance with regulatory or other content and format specifying requirements, you need to at the very least include all of the types of details that they would require, along with any other material that you would want to include for your own due diligence purposes.

• Detailed documentation of this sort usually includes a summary component that helps orient a reader, or viewer where multimedia content is included. This should briefly outline what is included in the overall documentation package and what basic conclusions are reached in it.
• For complex documentation, and certainly where that includes multiple format material (e.g. text and video and PowerPoint files, etc.), an effectively drafted index can add real value and even be essential if this documentation is going to be usable at all.
• And the information-rich details part of this documentation can be organized in chapters or other-format sections, or as a set of separate but logically connected files. The goal in that should be to meet any required formatting guideline requirements while keeping the overall work as readily navigable and usable as possible.

Organizations that have to archive large volumes of documentation and on an ongoing basis generally develop their own best practices approaches for doing so. So if you face a requirement to document a complex and information-rich project or other work initiative, be sure that you know what you are expected to include in this and how, and before you start. And I would go further and strongly recommend that you know this before you begin to collect and organize the information that you will have to add to this documentation, so you can be sure that you actually have the types and levels of detail required. If you do not know precisely what you have to capture for required documentation until after substantially starting and working on a project that you have to document, you might very well find yourself having to in effect recreate what you could have simply recorded, and with opportunity for introduced error or of being challenged for completeness and accuracy.

I will finish this posting by adding in one more potential source of complication: context.

When you document a project or program or other task-related activity, you do so from the perspective of it being current activity for you and certainly as you develop your documentation for this work. But you have to prepare your documentation for a potential audience that would see this as past effort – and without any real familiarity with either this work or with the context it was carried out in. I briefly noted above, adding in documentation detail to meet your own due diligence requirements as well for meeting any business-generated out outside regulatory guideline requirements. Adding in some brief background and context details to explain how and why key decisions were made can help make otherwise opaque documentation much more approachable, and much more relevant for future readers, who approach it from the perspective of different experience and perhaps divergent opinions and assumptions. Documentation that says what was done, but that leaves any reader scratching their head, wondering why, does not offer much transferable value moving forward. The point here is to be succinct and to the point; judiciously crafted brevity is important if this is not to turn into a seemingly self-serving digression from what was done and how.

Finding that judicious middle ground of content selection and detail level here begins with addressing some fairly specific due diligence questions, and as a starting point for this type of analytical discussion I would suggest:

1. What do you see in what you have been doing in this work that might offer value for further work? Putting that slightly differently for purposes of clarification, what are the key lessons learned from doing this work, and both from completing this project itself and from identifying and resolving challenges faced in being able to do so?
2. What briefly stated supporting explanation can you add to your documentation for this work now, that will help others at some future date capture that potential value in their own work?
3. Absent a crystal ball and clairvoyance, keep this simple and focused on what you can see most clearly see value from, in likely near-term contexts, as problems and challenges that impact on one work initiative are likely to recur for others too.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to consider goals and priorities, and approaches for better sharing your own and for better understanding those of others. This, I add is an essential first step to reaching any meaningful negotiated compromise agreement where differences do arise. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. You can also find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its continuation page.

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