Organization makes a system of many appear fewer

Mark Twain once said, “A person that does not read books is no better off than a person who does not know how to read.”  An organization that creates chaotic documentation is no better off than an organization that does not create any documentation.  The argument could be easily made the organization is actually better off by not wasting time creating chaotic useless documentation.

On any single software project or application, there can be 100’s perhaps 1,000’s of artifacts.  The artifacts can be requirements specifications, design documents, flow charts, code, test plans, test cases, so on and so forth.  Most of these documents will reside on personal computers or stored on some shared drive.   I have worked with organizations where all “important” documents are stored on a shared drive.  The share drive was created with no standards and no subdirectories.  In other words, there is just a big pile of documents.  Within those documents there are no naming conventions, no standard glossary and no standard format. It can be nearly impossible to find information, so developers just ignore any previous written documentation and start from scratch.

I ask software development organizations to compare how they catalog and organize their documentation to how a library organizes knowledge.  I ask, “What would the local library look like if they followed a similar process for organizing documentation?”  Some people tell me the library would be empty, others tell me books would just be staked up all over the place, still others tell me some of the books would be half written and some of the books would be tucked away in librarians desks.  For too many software development organizations their documentation is not organized at all and it is chaotic at best.

The idea of classifying information and knowledge is not a new idea and has existed for several millenniums.  Classifying was one of those skills in which Aristotle excelled.  Aristotle understood information is easiest understood when it is classified and organized.    The idea of organizing and classifying is nothing new and it should not be a novel idea to software development. The bottom line humans like things organized, we have been organizing information for millenniums, and it is time software development get on board.

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