A recent Forbes article trumpeted the power of documentation to drive sales: "Indeed, online product and services documentation has now proved to be an immensely effective way to increase new customer acquisition and to shorten sales cycles. It is now a critical business tool. "
I think he’s right; most folks commit to software and platforms only after checking out the online documentation -- not only to probe feature depth but also to gauge how likely it is that they’ll be able to get the answers they need once they’re live. It’s a way to evaluate the company’s commitment to having them succeed.
This argues for thinking about documentation as a marketing product, but that’s a challenge I see for Agile. Apart from the product owners, Agile fundamentally blocks out marketing (and sales, training, and support) from its laser focus on building software features. While Agile is great for slamming out high-value features, it’s not apt to make documentation or training into first-class products (no stories to write and produce conceptual/marketing pieces, no stories to design Quick Start slicks, no stories to create integrated, cross-module coursebooks).
It’s something I’ve been noodling about a lot: how to fit high-quality documentation into the Agile world. Perhaps the only way to have documentation to get the same attention as software product is for it to be a product, to find a way to manage it as a revenue center that merits ownership and management as a product, with its own teams and resources. But that road brings its own perils. Needs more thought. :-)