Minimalist documentation

Subject: Minimalist documentation
From: "M. David Orr" <whitears -at- INTERACCESS -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 11 Feb 1997 15:21:57 -0600

We use minimalist documentation in conjunction with what we call base
path analysis. Base path analysis determines best practices for a large,
mission critical system.

Typically, there are fifteen different ways one can do anything, but one
or two best ways. Base path analysis involves working with operations
people, often in brainstorming groups, to align business processes with
the systems that are supposed to support the processes.

For example, with one client we were able to reduce 2500 pages of
documentation to 120 pages, which documented the base path (best

This approach facilitates training new users and establishing standard
system usage. We used the base path as the backbone for a performance
support system that sequenced screens for accomplishing any of 23
critical tasks. On each screen the user could access help that explained
how to use the screen to accomplish the business task. This approach
amounted to just-in-time training. It is especially useful for critical
tasks that are performed periodically, but not constantly.

I think complete documentation is useful for system auditing and for
helping programmer analysts plan new system versions. Some power users
might use complete documentation. I think complete documentation ought
to be accessable online (perhaps through the Web) and combined with good
search engines and tables of contents. I also think online tips and
power-user booklets and training are useful to upgrade skills over time.

Additional discussion of base path analysis can be found on our Web page
at under Products and Services--Mission-Critical Systems
M. David Orr
Orr & Associates/Usability Management
7366 N. Lincoln Ave. Suite 101
Lincolnwood, Illinois 60646, USA
Phone: 847-677-1920
Fax: 847-677-7878
Email: whitears -at- orrnet -dot- com

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