Product Documentation – Important or not?

Importance of Documentation
As a messaging consultant my clients look to me for advice on their messaging environments. They want best practices, better processes and in a lot of cases, more information that I can discuss in design sessions. The last one is what I want to focus on for this article. Product documentation, for some, is a leftover relic from a day when software came with actual printed manuals. There were no e-books, no PDFs, no floppy disk/CD version of the documentation. There was an actual book that came with the software…. and why was that? Because we all needed a reference point to start with to understand the product we were installing. Today this same documentation can be found on the Internet. TechNet is the starting point for a lot of Exchange engineers. We can find the Exchange Server 2013 landing page, Planning and Deployment, and other resources available directly from Microsoft. There are a lot of blogs and other secondary sources for information, but Microsoft is the primary and trusted source for my customers.

So what happens when trusted, senior technical writers are laid off? Is that important? Could we be in for a transition to less documentation with Microsoft’s push to the cloud?

The Rub
Documentation is important. Good writing is very important. Being able to read technical content that makes sense and doesn’t sound like a broken word processor just spit out a bunch of code words and technical jargon, is important. What makes documentation useful is someone that can explain technical solutions to just about anyone, has a passion for what they do is even more important and is willing to go the extra step to make the solution or methodology understood. If those statements are true, then why has Microsoft let go some of their senior technical writers for Exchange Server? A little over a week ago, I received an email about one of Microsoft’s senior writers who had been let go. Apparently he was not the only one to be let go, but one of many senior writers laid off in Microsoft’s latest rounds.

While I may not understand the internal politics of Microsoft (and who does), I do know that the people that were go did were respected and very good at what they did for Microsoft. If this caliber of personnel is let go, then you have to question the reasoning and the leadership that let this happen. One can postulate and theorize as to why one would let go two (or more?) senior technical writers for Microsoft’s Exchange team. However, I think some clues point to Microsoft’s push to the cloud. From the ever promising better in the cloud, to making it easier to move to the cloud, it seems that Microsoft has lost their focus on their on-premise products. Lost their focus on the companies that do not or can not move to any cloud based services and to the companies that want to or need to maintain control over their own data.

The rub is that the eliminated writers were good at what they did. They impressed the hard to impress crowd of Exchange MVPs. These writers always went the extra mile to help you out with a question, problem, or issue you may have with the documentation. They had a passion for their job. Eliminating these writers sends a distinctly bad message to the Exchange community at large. It says that Microsoft does not want or need the best working for them.

An MVP’s Thoughts
In the end, reading the email that was sent out was gut wrenching because it seems to point to an end to an era. Maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but with the hard push to th ecloud by Microsoft, this falls into a pattern of events that emphasize Cloud vs. on-prem. These moves seem to be a shortsighted move that only exacerbates the perception of Microsoft’s lake of emphasis on quality…. and the is what I, in the end, see with the laying off of these writers. Quality of documentation is now not as important, because simply put, you don’t need documentation if you’re in the cloud.

Need help? Call support or open a ticket on the web. You no longer need an expert to set things up. Microsoft will handle that. Documentation will no longer be needed:

shredded
Further Reading
Jeff Guillet and Tony Redmond both have commented on this loss, I do believe it to be a loss, of good technical writing. I expect that this may raise its head in time

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One thought on “Product Documentation – Important or not?

  1. You’re right it’s part of a pattern – on the one hand you have the end of the MCM, the demise of MEC and the events you describe above, on the other you have the Office blog dishing out reassurance like this (http://blogs.office.com/2014/06/26/office-365-for-it-professionals-part-1/) and this (http://channel9.msdn.com/Shows/The-Garage-Series-for-Office-365/what-does-Office-365-mean-for-IT) that, ummm, doesn’t reassure at all.

    couple it with the frankly dreadful quality control with regard to rollups and CUs over the last 18 months and it’s difficult to believe it when Microsoft says that on-prem exchange has a future.

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