Documentation in Scrum

Good documentation as important to a project that uses the Scrum project mangement approach as any other approach. But often Scrum teams don’t see it that way. Team members will often justify the lack of documentation by quoting the following line from the Agile Manifesto.

“We favour working software over comprehensive documentation”

This is not a “get out of jail free card”. It does not mean that a team can produce no documentation for the product they are developing. The documentation is both necessary and important.

But, by raising this as a issue the team does have a problem. The problem is not one of documentation, but a one of time and estimation. The good news is that the Scrum framework already has an answer to the problem.

How to get out of jail

Scrum says that for a task to be done, everything in that task needs to be done. So that’s all of the design, implmenation, testing, integration and documenation for the task. The trick, as the ScrumMaster, is to realise which one of the follwing guidelines should be applied to the situation.

Guideline #1

If the documentation in question is something that the team would (or should!) naturally produce as part of their job then it should be produced during the course of their day to day work. Examples of this could be source code, architecture or design documents, installation or user guides.

Guideline #2

If the documentation in question is something out of band that the team would not normally porduce during their day to day work, then it should be treated in the same was as any other task. It shoud be added to the product backlog, prioritized and estimated as normal.

Where Guildeline #1 applies the team should have included the time to produce the documentation as part of their task estimate. By saying to you that they cannot complete the documentation the team are saying they they have either underestimated the work involved, or they have misunderstood the defination of done. You as the ScrumMaster will need to coach the team to remind them that they need to expand their estiamtes to include the documenation tasks.

If your team has fallen significantly behind in their documentation you should create a number of new documentation tasks and follow Guideline #2 to progressively catch-up. The team will select the documentation tasks based on their priority.

Guideline #2 puts an explicit cost on the additional documenation and makes this cost visible to all. The business can then weigh up the cost and benefits of this extra documentation against the cost and benefits of additional features. Which one a busines will choose will vary and depend on priorities at the time. But the cost of each choice will be clear.

This is a post in the Scrum Tips series.
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