SRCCON Spotlight: Building a Culture of Documentation
Lauren Rabaino and Kelsey Scherer’s session on making space and time to write it down
This year’s SRCCON—our fourth—begins next week. To kick off the run-up to the event, we’re featuring a selection of sessions from last year’s conference, including transcripts and audio when we have them, and brand-new interviews with the session facilitators.
Last year’s SRCCON participants got a lot out of Lauren Rabaino & Kelsey Scherer’s docs session, and we’ve found ourselves returning to the transcript more than once.
Notes & Docs
From the session description: Writing down processes, goals, and workflows is an important part of building healthy, transparent, and collaborative teams. But finding time to write and making sure that people read those documents is a constant challenge. This activity-based brainstorm session will lean into the expertise and experience of attendees to explore methods for building solid documentation practices into a team’s culture.
…the ultimate goal is for everyone to be able to walk out of here and understand the importance of documentation for your team, whatever that means for you…and maybe, if we’re being ambitious, start a plan and go back to your team and be like, this is how we’re doing it and this is what we should do or maybe we should do this.
Did anyone talk about peer reviewing? That’s something we think about a lot because there are many ways of doing things and often when you’re documenting something like process, for example, people have differing opinions how to do it which is why it’s good to document it. Think about who reads this, how do they revise it, it’s basically user testing your documentation, right, to make sure it’s clear for yourself, for stakeholders. What about when to write it. Throwing at someone 5 p.m. probably isn’t the best way to do it, it should be built into whatever structure you have.
One thing that we’ve found is when you try to say, hey, this week try to document that thing, that that always falls off people’ radar, because the more important things will always trump that. So what we’ve been doing for about a year and a half is doing regular documentation days where it’s a required day, nobody is doing any work, but sitting in a room together, documenting [with] headphones on, peer-reviewing each other’s stuff so that you’re forced to do it.
Our Q&A with Lauren Rabaino & Kelsey Scherer
We checked in with Rabaino and Scherer in the runup to SRCCON 2017 to chat about how their session had gone, and how their thinking has changed since it took place.
Q. What was your session like?
For our session, we developed an activity arc that would loosen people up and guide them toward an end deliverable. It followed this format:
- Introduction from us: who we are, challenges we’ve faced, and what the goals are for the session.
- Broke into groups: we had materials at each table and told folks the people at their table were their team for the rest of the session.
- Icebreaker sketching: For two minutes, we asked people to quickly sketch out two scenarios: (1) A time they felt complete clarity about a task they were doing. (2) A time they had no idea what they were doing. The purpose of this exercise was to start extracting ideas about the effects of clear and unclear communication, and what factors contribute to our sense of understanding and purpose.
- Group brainstorm: We gave groups the following prompt: “Imagine: You are a new person arriving on Day 1 at your organization. No one is available to help you get started. You are alone at your desk with a set of documentation. But, by the end of the first day, you have a good sense of your first project and your role on the team. What was in that documentation?” The purpose of this was to start identifying which sets of documentation would be essential to making people productive.
Our notes from documentation session at #srccon 📝 pic.twitter.com/uF907JPMHY— Sandhya Kambhampati (@sandhya__k) July 29, 2016
- Final project: The last exercise was creating real-world ideas. Individually, people wrote out as many ideas as they could think of on Post-Its to answer the question, “How might we allow our team to contribute to regular documentation?” We asked them to think about: where it goes, who writes it, when they write it, how often, how do they update it. Then, as a group, they reviewed all their concepts and sorted ideas thematically.
- Reflection: We asked people to write themselves an email about the three biggest takeaways and how they’ll want to follow up when they get back to their newsroom.
documentation doesn't have to be painful - *lots* of low hanging fruit. here are a few! #srccon pic.twitter.com/YbVyCMVUQi— Cathy Deng (@cthydng) June 25, 2015
Q. Has your understanding of the challenges of documentation changed since you ran the session?
Lauren: A little bit! These days I am thinking a lot more about documenting and regularly updating on progress around company priorities and tracking against goals. I’m more focused on how documentation can help bridge many different teams, moreso than making one single team productive. That’s probably because of how my job has evolved.
Kelsey: Not drastically, but since our session I’ve been thinking more about updating and maintaining documentation. Once we had a good baseline of information documented, we quickly realized how easy it was for documents to become out-of-date.
Q. Are there threads from the session that have led elsewhere, that you know of?
Lauren used the basis of this session to lead a documentation session in Buenos Aires at the Hacks/Hackers conference. We’ve also written about documentation on our Storytelling blog.
Editor, Source, 2012-2018.
Lauren Rabaino is the executive director of operations at Vox Media, where she organizes the company’s priority initiatives across all departments.
Kelsey Scherer is a principal designer on the product team, where she designs publishing tools for our creators.