Measuring And Improving Documentation Update Processes

The Problem of Outdated Documentation

Documentation that accurately reflects the current state of a product or process is critical for users to be productive. However, keeping documentation updated is an arduous task that often gets neglected, leading to outdated and misleading information.

There are several reasons documentation easily becomes outdated:

  • Frequent product changes and new feature releases
  • Lack of established documentation update processes
  • Insufficient allocation of resources to documentation maintenance
  • Lack of ownership and accountability for keeping docs current

Outdated documentation has severe consequences for organizations:

  • Increased support tickets and calls due to user confusion
  • Lower user productivity and satisfaction
  • Higher training costs to compensate for misleading documentation
  • Loss of credibility, trust, and reputation for the product

The risk and amount of outdated documentation tends to increase exponentially over time when left unmanaged. Implementing measures to actively monitor and improve documentation currency is essential.

Measuring Documentation Staleness

The first step toward improving documentation update processes is to gain visibility into the scope and scale of outdated documentation. A variety of techniques can be used to identify stale sections:

Techniques to identify outdated documentation sections

  • Web analytics – Track key user flows and high traffic areas to detect patterns signaling outdated or confusing content based on elevated fallout rates.
  • Search analytics – Analyze site search queries and refinements to find topics frequently searched for but not adequately covered in docs.
  • User feedback – Actively collect feedback from support teams and users about documentation inaccuracies through surveys, interviews, testing, and support ticket analysis.
  • Subject matter expert reviews – Consult experienced internal teams regularly to manually review documentation against current product functionality and changes.
  • Automated validation – Use scripts to algorithmically check docs against current UI structure, API specs, schema fields, method signatures, etc. Flag deviations.

Once outdated or missing documentation sections have been identified, metrics should be tracked to quantify staleness and prioritize update efforts:

Metrics to quantify documentation staleness

  • Percentage of total documentation pages that are outdated
  • Number of known stale topics without any update in past X months
  • Number of incoming support tickets related to outdated documentation per month
  • Number of detected discrepancies from UI or API specification per doc page
  • Average time for a new feature release to have documentation updated

By regularly measuring these metrics, documentation authors and maintainers can monitor currency trends, demonstrate the business impact of stale content, and rally stakeholder support for documentation update initiatives.

Updating Documentation Efficiently

Once flaws in documentation currency have been quantified, the next imperative step is to establish efficient documentation update practices and devote adequate resources. Tactics to improve documentation update throughput include:

Automated approaches to updating docs

  • Integrate documentation platforms with product issue trackers to automatically link enhancement and bug fix tickets to relevant documentation topics needing review.
  • Build annotation functionality where subject matter experts can tag specific areas needing docs updates or additional details while internal testing.
  • Extract key bits of info from product wikis, design docs, planning sheets into documentation using ETL processes.
  • Use scripts to scrape UI text, tooltips, in-product messages, etc. to auto-insert relevant user assists into docs.
  • Auto-generate API reference docs from interface definitions, metadata schemas, type libraries.

Best practices for manual documentation updates

  • Allocate adequate staff to documentation authoring and CM.
  • Incorporate doc review into every sprint and release process.
  • Conduct doc tests in staging/QA to validate accuracy of updates.
  • Reward and recognize cross-team contributions to improving documentation.
  • Implement documentation standards around tone, formatting, appropriate specificity to ease authoring.

By combining automated mechanisms with solid human-driven processes, documentation can be iteratively improved at velocity rather than through huge, rigid overhaul projects.

Ensuring Documentation Stays Current

In addition to improving how documentation updates are performed, focusing on more preventative measures to avoid documentation staleness is imperative.

Proactive ways to avoid documentation decay

  • Treat documentation as a first-class product with dedicated tools, platform, staffing and processes rather than an afterthought.
  • Encourage product teams to contribute to documentation in small, frequent increments.
  • Reward excellent and timely documentation similar to shipping great products.
  • Incorporate documentation health metrics into overall product success measures.
  • Automate validation checks to detect gaps between docs and product early in lifecycle.

Setting up ongoing processes and checks

  • Schedule regular documentation review sprints parallel to product development cycles.
  • Create a dedicated docs update team to work closely with product leads.
  • Assign documentation update responsibilities and time allocation to all members of product team.
  • Implement version control for documentation changes tracking.
  • Setup a user feedback collection process for identifying needs proactively.

By instilling a culture where documentation improvement is ingrained in everyday workflows rather than an occasional stage, teams can stay on top of documentation freshness.


Neglected and outdated documentation can lead to increase support costs, frustrated users, and loss of trust in a product. Techniques covered in this guide such as metrics-based identification of stale topics, automated update mechanisms, and cross-functional ownership of documentation quality helps significantly improve currency.

Readers are encouraged to start implementing documentation review processes aligned to product release cycles, dedicate adequate staff, rely on automation, and design systems to collect user feedback proactively. By incrementally improving documentation update practices, the risks of outdated information can be minimized even within large, complex, rapidly evolving products.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *