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Easy Agile Podcast Ep.14 Rocking the Docs

Rocking the Docs with K15t

Henri Seymour

"It was great to speak with Matt. I loved having the space to talk about common interests - all things technical documentation & information architecture" - Henri Seymour

On this episode of The Easy Agile Podcast, tune in to hear Henri Seymour - Developer at Easy Agile speak with Matt Reiner - Customer Advocate at K15t.

Henri & Matt are talking all things technical documentation (we promise this episode is way more interesting than it sounds! 😉)


✏️ Considering technical documentation as a product
✏️ The value of well written documentation
✏️ Why you should be digitally decluttering often
✏️ Information architecture

So many golden nuggets in this episode!

Be sure to subscribe, enjoy the episode 🎧

Transcript

Henri Seymour:

Hi, everyone. This is the Easy Agile Podcast. We've got an episode today with Matt Reiner. I'm your host for today, Henri Seymour, developer at Easy Agile. And just before we start the podcast, I'd like to acknowledge the traditional Australians of the land on which I'm recording today, the Watiwati people of the Dharawal nation. Pay respect to elders past, present, and emerging, and extend that respect to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people listening to this episode.

Matt is an experienced content strategist with a history of working in the computer software industry, skilled in agile scrum framework, related tools, communication, technical writing, video production, customer interaction, strategic planning. And he's here today to talk with us about writing and specifically technical writing and documentation. Hi, Matt.

Matt Reiner:

Hi. It's great to be here. Yeah, I'm Matt. I'm into all sorts of content things. And one of those is technical writing, which is, I think more interesting than it sounds. I guess you'll have to decide by the end of the podcast, if you think so.

Henri Seymour:

Technical documentation experts. So when you talk about technical documentation specifically, what do you mean by that?

Matt Reiner:

Well, I feel like that term is actually in the middle of a big change right now. In the past, technical documentation was very strictly like, "Okay, we're a team, we're making a thing, a product." Maybe it's an app, maybe it's, I don't know, a go-kart and we need to have a user manual for that. Technical documentation was someone sitting down and writing down, "Okay, here are all the knobs and switches and here's what they do. Here are all the features. Here's maybe why you would use them."

So putting together that user guide, which traditionally was printed material that you would get with the product. But it's become a lot more over time, partially with the internet, because we can just constantly iterate on content like many of us do with the products that our teams make. And then also we are seeing it in new forms. Maybe it's not a printed piece, in fact, most people do not want printed technical documentation anymore, they want it online. Or even better, they want it right in context in your app when they're using it, they can just get the info they need, and then get on with it.

That's what technical documentation is. It's supposed to be there to help you do the thing that you really care about and then get out of the way so that you can do it.

Henri Seymour:

Do you have a description of why good technical documentation? Not just having it, but having it at a good quality in a way that really helps your users, is so important to product users.

Matt Reiner:

Well, I suppose we all find those points in our day or in our journey that we find ourselves in where we want to accomplish something, but we don't know how to do it. So a lot of us have really gotten very used to jumping on Google and saying, "Okay, here's this thing I want to do, how do I do it?" And good technical documentation is there with the answer you need, the explanation you need. Because really ultimately all of us are smart people who should be empowered to do the thing we're passionate about.

And technical writers and communicators who are really all members of our team. People who sit down to create good technical documentation uses few words as possible to get a person on the way they're going. And that's like, when it happens its just like, "Glorious," not to the user. They don't even know that it happened, they didn't even know that they read your writing. But to the writer, it's like, "Yeah, I did it, I did it. They don't even care what I did, but I did it." And now they're doing the thing that really matters.

Henri Seymour:

That's great understanding one of the major differences of like, I've written something and I don't want my user to be spending time on it. I want as little time spent reading this as possible.

Matt Reiner:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You can have great pride in your work, but one of those metrics that a lot of people look at for websites is time spent on page. So sometimes you can fool yourself into thinking, "Oh wow, they spent 10 minutes on my page. That means my documentation's really good." But also that might mean that it's not very good and they're having to reread it over and over again. So the true metric is, did they get to the thing they really cared about? And unfortunately, it's hard to measure.

Henri Seymour:

You mentioned now that with the advent of the internet and giving you the opportunity to iterate on those docs in a way that you wouldn't be able to with printed documentation. That iterative thing brings the agile process of iterate on something that you already put out and improve it in the same way that as a developer I do for products. Can you tell us more about that iterative agile sort of process?

Matt Reiner:

Oh yeah. Yeah, it's so true. Documentation used to be back in the waterfall standard, more typical product project management days, documentation was a major part of it. You'd start this project by writing these massive documents of, "Here's what we're going to set out to do. And here's all the considerations, and here's how everything's going to connect up." And that did work really well for a lot of hardware. Which was the thing that we made for a long time. Just everything that humankind made was hardware often, as groups anyway.

And then all of a sudden this whole software thing comes along and we're trying to build that like it's a physical thing. And we get to the end of this two-year software project and people are like, "Yeah, that's not the thing that I wanted." But we're like, "Oh, but we go back to the beginning and look at that documentation, and that's what you said you wanted." But now with the internet and with just agile development, we really need to move away from this place where we start with a pile of documents. And then we develop another pile of documents as our, I don't know, development guidelines.

And then our test plans, and then finally we end up with user documentation. Instead, these days, documentation should really just grow from a very small piece of content throughout that whole agile development cycle into that final user documentation. Because it doesn't matter what we set out to make, it matters what we make. Nobody he wants to read about what we thought we would make, that's straight up fiction. And it's probably not an interesting read. It's really that final user guide that comes out of the agile process, but that's a big change, but it's a good one.

Henri Seymour:

I love that idea of just like, this is gradually growing. There is no specific start block and end block. It's a process. And you mentioned the opportunity to iterate on those documents. Do you have any advice for after you've published digitally your technical documentation from iterating on what you've already got there, improving that over time?

Matt Reiner:

Oh yeah. I know every agile framework is different, but they all have that feedback phase, where... And really that's throughout the whole process, but we do need to dedicate some time. So, there's a lot of different things we can look at. For example, I don't want to say basic, a standard one that we should be looking at is, you should have a help center, where you can implement something like Google Analytics so you can see just, what are people looking at? How long are they looking at it?

Another really good one is, you have to set it up separately in Google Analytics. What are people searching for on your site? You can also use Google... used to be Webmaster Tools. I think it's called Site Tools now, but you can see what were people searching for on Google before they came to your pages. That's all really, really valuable stuff. Then you can get more advanced. You can look at pointer tracking, apps that you can embed on there, which you get some pretty wild stuff.

But then you also, you want to consider having a forum at the bottom of each page like, "Was this helpful? Was it not helpful? Oh, it wasn't helpful? Tell me why. Oh, it was helpful? Tell me why." Just like a YouTube creator, they look for that feedback. That feedback is essential, the thumbs up. In fact, it's very controversial, YouTube just announced that they're going to hide the thumbs down numbers, but a lot of creators are like, "No, no, no don't do that because that communicates the value of this video that is out there."

So there's a lot of those signals. And then there's just really soft signals that, it's hard to know if people are using the content or not. Because you may never hear. Especially, if it is one of those things that they just get in and get out, you're not going to hear anything about that. But the feedback phase, it's really great to... Anytime you're getting feedback on your product that you're making, try to get your documentation out there as well. Because that's the time where people are open to exploring your product and giving feedback.

So why not explore that same documentation, the related documentation to see, "Okay, is this actually helping these people do the thing that they want to do? Or should we improve it just like we do with the product?"

Henri Seymour:

No, that's a really good, comparing the, we've just released a product. Give us feedback with doing the same thing with the documentation. Because that's when it's going to reach its peak use before everyone's got the hang of it. We've just done this feature release, let us know how you go using it, and the documentation is in a sense part of it, especially for more complex products.

Matt Reiner:


Exactly.

Henri Seymour:

Do you have any background in the customer support side of things? We do customer support in-house as well as their documentation. So we're trying to improve the documentation to lower the support load on our team. Do you have any background in that... Can you solve it?

Matt Reiner:

Yeah. Well, yes and no. It's interesting. I work at K15t now, I used to be a customer of K15t's, so that's actually how I met the team. And that was also how I met documentation in the first place. At my last job, they brought me in to administrate this system called Jira. And I was like, "I don't know what that is." I told them, "I thought I could do it." And I figured it out, it was this little thing called Jira On-Demand, which is now Jira Cloud. And I introduced Confluence On-Demand to the company as well. And wow, I broke Jira a lot of times.

Luckily it wasn't like mission critical at the time, we were still really figuring it out. But it was through Atlassian's documentation on Jira that I really learned like, "Wow, there is tremendous value to this content here." And then I discovered, "Okay, how is Atlassian creating their documentation? Oh, they're doing it in Confluence. They're writing it in Confluence. They're using these apps from K15t." And so I started using those apps, and then I talked a lot to K15t customer support, just questions and how do I get this started?

And we also do our support in-house, so it's really great. So maybe as a customer, I overused it, I don't know. I should ask some of my colleagues if they got sick of me. But the benefit was very clear because they would send me, "Oh, here's documentation on this. And here's the answer to this question or here are the considerations you should keep in mind." And actually several of our teams now, we're really looking at, especially, for those features that are very robust, people have questions.

So it's like, how can we enable them to help them help themselves? And putting those resources out there is one thing, making sure that Google can find them, well, is another. But that is a really important thing, especially, since as a product team, when your user base grows, so does your need for support. It's just... I don't want to say it's exponential, but it's in line with each other. And so, one of the ways you can mitigate that is, making sure you have good design so that your product is easy to use. And then another is you need to have good content all around that entire experience so that you don't have to keep hiring more and more support people.

Or your support people can specialize and really focus on those deep entrenched issues, and then the documentation should help with the rest. But the secret sauce there is tricky. It's hard to write the perfect content to deflect the cases. That's everybody's dream.

Henri Seymour:

Even if it is just not all of them, but some of the common use cases start to get deflected away from support because people can self service. It does make a difference. And I really understand the idea of Jira documentation as well. Easy Agile works on Jira and it's... Jira is an incredibly complicated product at this point, and I imagine it probably was also complicated when it was Jira On-Demand. Because it's so complicated and so detailed, there's no way to make that easy to understand for a user without that documentation. There's no getting around that one.


Matt Reiner:

Yeah. I think there should be a club for the people who have broken workflows too many times in Jira. But yeah, I mean the documentation saved me many times and I would have to put out a... Well, it was a HipChat message at the time. May it rest in peace and I'd have to say, "I broke Jira, give me a minute. I got to go read something." Not the way you want to learn Jira, but it's an option.

Henri Seymour:

It is. Sometimes you learn things by breaking things. That's-

Matt Reiner:

That's right.

Henri Seymour:

Really seems like my experience in software so far. You try to break the things that people aren't currently using and that's about all you can do.

Matt Reiner:

Exactly.

Henri Seymour:

So K15t has recently published Rock the Docs. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?

Matt Reiner:

Yeah. Rock the Docs, actually, it came out of a lot of that information that I got from K15t. Customer support, I got from K15t documentation, I got from Atlassian documentation. And then some of the stuff I figured out on my own, or some of my colleagues at K15t did. Essentially like, what are the best practices for creating really good content in Confluence? And it really started with a collection of guides on how to create technical documentation content. It's geared toward like making a public help center, but really it's for any kind of content that you want to be like evergreen, longstanding content to be able to help people.

So we initially talked about all sorts of things like structuring your content, content reuse, managing multiple languages, which can be tricky in Confluence. Collaboration, publishing your content outside of Confluence in one way or another, managing versions of that content. So, that's the start of it. And then we saw a lot of positive response with that and we had more general questions like, "Okay, but what are the best ways to get feedback in Confluence?" Or, "How do I make a template or a good template or how do I make a good diagram in Confluence?"

And so we've grown that content to focus on just all sorts of general Confluence things. Because we found that there's a lot of information out there on how to do something. Atlassian documentation really helpful, but there wasn't as much, I'm like, "Why would you do it? And why would you do it this specific way?" And we've been working with Confluence for over 10 years now. Like I said, I've been with Confluence since the crashy early cloud days. It's grown up so fast, it's beautiful.


But we just know we've done a lot of stuff with Confluence, so it's been a real privilege to share that both in like these written guides. And then actually recently we've started publishing a series to our YouTube channel as well, all about Confluence best practices.

Henri Seymour:

That's great. It's real interesting to hear how that started as a smaller project than it turned out to be, because you could see the value in it and the use in it. We've discussed Confluence a few times now and K15t builds apps that use Confluence as a documentation source. Can you tell us more about what makes Confluence useful for building technical documentation? What sort of tools and approaches that make it useful in this context?

Matt Reiner:

Yeah. Confluence is by nature open, which is not the way technical writing tools are built. In fact, I remember the first time I went to a technical writing conference and someone asked me, "Oh, what tool do you use?" Which is like, what technical communications people talk about, because we're all nerds in that way. And I was like, "Oh, I'm doing it in Confluence." And they didn't really want to talk to me after that because they didn't think I was a serious tech writer. And I was like, "Oh no, no, no, no, this is all happening."

At that point, Rock the Docs didn't exist. So I couldn't be like, "Go over there and see how it works." But the biggest difference is most tech writing tools are just totally locked down. You have two licenses for your two people who are trained professional tech graders, and then everybody else, there's no access. You don't touch it. Maybe your tech writers will send you a PDF and you have to go through the God awful process of marking up a PDF to tell them like what to correct. Or, I've heard of teams printing out the content and people penciling in what needs to be changed.

The review processes are just out of this world insane. And those tools don't fit terribly well with agile processes because it's like, you build the thing over here, and then here's the two tech writers over here in their separate tool. And at some point we'll be like, "Okay, this thing's done. Would you write about it?" So with Confluence, the benefit of using Confluence is, it's accessible to everyone on the team and even people outside the team. And that's incredibly by an official because we've seen with agile, but we're also seeing in this technical communication and in information design field, that teams are less and less looking for those specialized individuals who are trained tech writers.

Which that's an oxymoron because half of us, we don't have degrees in tech writing, we fell into it for one reason or another. But now teams are starting to see, "Hey, I can be a code developer and an information developer. I might not write the final piece of written content that is seen by our customers, but I might write the first draft." Confluence really opens that up for everyone. And especially with like at mentioning and inline comments, review processes are just so fast.

Actually, the reason that I switched to Confluence at my last job, was my product manager threatened me and said, "I will not mark up another PDF. Go and find a good tool that we all want to work in." And that's where we landed on Confluence. It's about bringing the whole team into the writing process instead of having it be this separate thing. Because when it's a separate thing, we lose track of it. And content, we forget how important it is to our product, to the customer life cycle, to... God bless customer support, who really, really need that content to be good and accurate.

And it needs to be seen by the real experts who validate, "Yeah, okay, this is correct. This will actually show people how our product works." And Confluence is like the heart of that.


Henri Seymour:

No, it's great to hear how that all comes together to build the documentation as a team. Can you speak more to the different roles in, specifically in software development and the different roles you're looking to get involved in your documentation process? We are working on building our specific app teams here at Easy Agile as we're growing at the moment.

Matt Reiner:

Yeah. That's such a good question. Well, what-

Henri Seymour:

And how do you incorporate... Sorry, this is more specific to my question. How do you incorporate that technical writing process as part of the work of an agile software development team?

Matt Reiner:

Well, first, it starts by rethinking priorities because most teams are like, "Documentation down here, testing and then everything else above." So generally, those two things should be moved up. And actually, the content around our product is... I don't want to sound over traumatic, but if we don't have information, we don't have a product. I don't care how much code you write. If we're not explaining it to people, if we don't have good UI text, if we don't have good in-app help, it doesn't exist. It's not a useful tool, it's just a set of mathematics that humans can't interact with.

So content is essential, so it's really important that we elevate it to the position where everyone on the team recognizes that the content experience that our users have is the product experience they have. So it needs to be part of the product development process. So then the next step, which I know you're talking about team structure, but the next step is really everyone on the team needs to know they're a writer, and they're a good writer. And that's important because a lot of people have never heard that. They've never heard that they're a good writer, and they probably have never heard that they're a writer.

I remember going through university, my writing classes were the things that I didn't pay attention to. I was doing mathematics, and Java programming, and statistics. Even that seemed more important to me, not the writing classes. And then sure enough, it turns out everyone has to write. We all write. So knowing that that is a role that everyone fills is really important. And then when it comes to actually team structure, you need to have individuals who are willing to cross the streams, so to speak. If you're bringing in someone who's focusing on test engineering, they need to realize that the test plans they're writing are very similar to a lot of user documentation that needs to be written.

They're writing task topics, or task instructions, do this, do this, do this over and over again. That's documentation. They could be contributing in that way. Engineers, as I mentioned, they could be drafting the first copy of a lot of what are called concept topics. So areas of documentation where you explain concepts, because they already know what those concepts are. In fact, if you look at the root of a lot of agile development teams, they're using epics and user stories and acceptance criteria. And all those map perfectly into the documentation you needed to create for that new feature you're working on or feature you're improving.

So really, it's essential to have everybody recognize, we are all already creating documentation, so we can contribute. And then of course, you really do want to have at least one probably native English speaker. Maybe not native, but someone who feels confident in their English or whatever language you're authoring in. English is typically the cheapest one to translate to other languages, so that's what people go for often. But that person's the person who takes everything everybody's written, gets it to the right style and tone. And then gets it out there. That's what we are seeing be successful.

Like our teams right now, we don't have any legit tech writers. We have product managers writing. We have product marketers writing. We have engineers writing. Some of the best documentation I've ever read was from one of our German-speaking engineers. I was like, "Peter, this is an amazing guide. You got to get out of this Java and get into English, man. It's great. It's great." So he's done a few, which I really love. But yeah, it's about jumping out of your typical roles and realizing, we're all documenting this stuff, anyway.

Henri Seymour:

I love the focus, especially with your German-speaking colleague. The focus on, it's not just that you must write the documentation because you know how the product works and we need that written down. It's, you are capable of writing the documentation, you can do this. You have that added barrier of safety with somebody who's got the language proficiency that they're going to massage it and edit it at the end.

So, before it gets anywhere, anything that you do is going to get filtered out if it's not working. But you don't need a specific tech-writing background to write the docs.

Matt Reiner:

No, absolutely not. In fact, there's an entire community of what... They call themselves documentarians called Write the Docs. And that whole community, that whole group is focused on, it doesn't matter what you do, it matters that you care about writing the docs, contributing to the content. And that's been a big shift, I think in the industry, where people thought we're separate. But now it's like, "No, no, no, we are all able to do this." And once we can respect the contributions that each of us can make.

And then also, I have that protection of somebody else is going to have their eyes on this, which even my writing, I'm like, "I don't like to send it out until someone else has seen it." Because I make spelling mistakes and typos all the time. I really want to have another colleague look at it. Even if they're not native English speakers, because they catch my typos pretty often. That feeling of togetherness, it's the same way that we feel when we ship out a project or a product.

Whether you did the testing for it, or you wrote the code for it, or you did the product marketing for it. It's like, "It's our baby. Let's send it out and see what happens." Content's the same way.

Henri Seymour:

Yeah, part of my daily role and [inaudible 00:28:03]... We don't have QA team separate from developers. Our developers also review our code and it's that sense of, "I wrote this thing, but I have one or two other people who've refined it, who've made sure that it's good enough quality. They've got that fresh eye, so they'll see the spelling mistakes, they'll see the minor little errors that I've just been looking at it too long to notice anymore."

I found the documentation writing process has some parallels in there like, "Here's my thing. I'd like some feedback on it before it goes out into the real world."

Matt Reiner:

Yeah.

Henri Seymour:

That's great.

Matt Reiner:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Henri Seymour:

All right. Can you talk a bit about the difference between the customer-facing documentation that we've mostly discussed so far and internal documentation?

Matt Reiner:

Yeah. There are some differences and there are some major similarities. So this very... It sounds very technical and ugly. The term information architecture, it's really important with any kind of content, internally and externally. And really that's like, if you're a developer you're familiar with XML, you're familiar with structuring things in that way. Our content needs to work the same way. And that goes for internal and external documentation. So, many of the things that they use, writers, when they write a page or an article in the newspaper, they'll use that Pyramid approach, where they put the broad bits of information at the top. And then they slowly focus in on the topic and give more and more information about it.

But you want to make sure that if somebody only reads the first paragraph, they're getting a rough idea of what the information is. And that's really important for successful Confluence pages and spaces. People should be able to start at the top level of the space, understand what the space is about, and then be able to navigate down into the thing that they really want to learn about into the page itself. Which should then be using headings and subheadings and bullet points to get, again, just disseminate that information and break it down. Because everybody skims.

We need our content to be skimmable, our spaces need to be skimmable. And that kind of content also makes Confluence search happy, especially the new Confluence Cloud search, which has been greatly improved. There's a whole new elastic search base to that that's being optimized. But it's happy, it's just like with Google when we structure our content like that. So when you have a page that is just a wall of text, no headings, you're not breaking it up into pages or even spaces, nobody's going to be happy with that.

The bots aren't going to be happy with it, the people reading aren't going to be happy with it. So it takes a bit of work to structure, break up the structure of our content. It's probably all good as long as it's up-to-date, but it's really essential that we think about, how do we structure that in Confluence so that people can find it and people can skim it? And that is what seems to plague a lot of internal Confluence instances, because a lot of... Maybe the team isn't so focused on that.

It's like, "Oh, our external help center that's come coming from this space over here, that's fine. Our team space, hot mess, total tire fire." And nobody cares because they think they know where everything is. But then you start to think about, "Okay, but what about the new team member? How do they find something?" Or, "What about the team member who's been away for Paternity leave for six weeks? Are they going to remember where everything is or know where all the new stuff is?


What about folks with disabilities? Is it going to be much harder for them to navigate to the information they need? Because they're working with a screen reader and they're trying to go through a wall of text. They need headings, a screen reader relies on those headings and titles." So there's just so many considerations that really leadership of companies needs to understand, just because you have a process to do something or the information is somewhere, doesn't mean you don't have a major information problem. And maintaining all of your content in Confluence and then maintaining it well.

That is what enables people to avoid the frustrations of searching for information, losing information, having to relearn or rewrite information. I have worked at too many companies that just information sieves everywhere. I don't even want to call them silos because nobody knows where stuff is anymore either. That's what Confluence brings to things, and that's what matters with internal content pretty much as well as external.

Henri Seymour:

That's a great perspective on it. And I can see the silos, it's a really more... Just a one big pile, you can't find anything. I've been-

Matt Reiner:

Exactly.

Henri Seymour:

... at Easy Agile for more than half of its life now and I've got that sense of like, "Oh, I know I wrote this down somewhere. I know I've seen this written down somewhere." And we are making a habit, especially as we're hiring more and more people. Every time somebody's going through onboarding, they're going to be looking at all of this documentation with no previous background on it. And we want to hear their feedback on it specifically. Because if it works for them, then that's the documentation that we need for them and for everyone after them, and for everyone who's already here.

Especially, I've been at Easy Agile for almost three years now, and I've seen it grow from eight people to now we're up to high 20s, I think. We're going to cross over into the 30s by the end of the year.

Matt Reiner:

Wow.

Henri Seymour:

The growth of information that we have in our internal documentation, and I'm sure it would parallel the growth of the product documentation for a product that's been expanding for three to five years. How do you manage the documentation and the Confluence spaces as the team and the company grow and you just develop more and more pages out of it?

Matt Reiner:

That is the question since the dawn of the universe or at least the dawn of Confluence, which, what's the difference? The biggest thing is team responsibility, so knowing this is our space, this is our content. And not like in a territorial way, but this is our responsibility. Much the way we should think about our planet, we should also think about our content, keeping it groomed and taken care of, and up-to-date and accurate. And then as things change.

For example, we have a product called Scroll Viewport, which is actually what enables you to publish content from Confluence to a public health center, which is really, really cool. So with that, we had a server and data center version. We've had that for quite some time. That's what I was a user of. And then we set off to develop a cloud version, and cloud requires a whole bunch of new infrastructure, which is a lot of fun and very challenging, but it's a totally different beast.

It's not like you can just lift the server code and just drop it into cloud, which is what as a user I asked them to do for years, "why isn't this on cloud?" Now I know why. So we created a new team that started off this Scroll Viewport on cloud effort. And it was just a very scrappy project at first. And I remember the first page we got up there, it's like, "Whoa, look at this page we published." And then it progressed from there. But then at some point, we needed to bring the two teams back together. And what we could have just said, "Oh, this old Viewport space, whatever. We're just going to leave it there and then just go on with the new one."

But instead the team took time and brought the two spaces together and really went through the old content in the Viewport Server and data center space to say, "Is this all still relevant? Do we still need this?" So it's been reordered in such an amazing way. Several of our teams have gotten really good at making these spaces so that I can come in. Because I work with all of our teams, just get in and find what I need, even though I'm not working their day-to-day. I'm just so glad, I'm so proud of the team for not just letting that space languish somewhere or being afraid to delete or archive content, which a lot of people are.

It's like, "No, what if we lose something?" It's like, "No, no, no, we've moved past this. We really do need to delete it." So that's the kind of attitude it takes is, our teams to split and expand and grow, and we need conscious of that content. Because again, think of the new person, think of the person who's learning something new. Think of the person who maybe does have disabilities and is trying to get the content they need. They just don't have the background that you do. Having been with the company for half its life, you know how to dig through the thought pile to pull out just the thing you want, but they don't.

Henri Seymour:

Yeah, and I don't want to be the person that they have to ask every time they need information, "Hey, can you find this for me?" No, no. I want to build a system that means that I don't have to answer the same questions all the time. That's one of the reasons I've been doing internal documentation so much since [inaudible 00:37:36]. I've answered this question once, that will do.

Matt Reiner:

Yes. That's a really good way to motivate any contributors to documentation. "Hey, you know how you wrote that piece of our app that one time and then everybody's asked you about how it works ever since? Just document it once and I promise you can never answer it again." That's good motivation right there.

Henri Seymour:

It is. As well, we've got a team on support models, so I'm working on the store maps and personas, product development team. And that's the same team that gets all of the support requests about story maps and personas. So yeah, the better we make the product, the better we make the documentation, the less of our time every morning we spend doing that. And the more we can get back to our regular jobs.

Matt Reiner:

Exactly.

Henri Seymour:

It's been great for helping us keep in contact with the customers and what they're doing and what information they need when they're using our product. You mentioned that like it's necessary, it's valuable to be deleting an archive-based stuff, pages in Confluence from time to time. When you're looking at a page and wondering whether or not it's time to go, what sort of questions are you asking yourself?

Matt Reiner:

Well, a great one is like, look at the last modified date on that page. That's general a pretty good sign of like, "Are people even looking at it?" In fact, if you're on cloud premium and above, you can look at some great metrics on every page to see like who's looking at this thing? Is this valuable? What are the views like? Just the same way that you would look at your external website to see if your content is valuable or effective. But typically, we have a lot of debris left over from product development or team activities.

Like if you're in marketing and you have a campaign from three years ago, do you really need all of those detailed pages? Maybe keep the overall campaign page, maybe that's useful, but do you really need everything? If you're into testing, do you really need every test plan you ever created? If you're in the legal team, do you really want your legal terms from 10 years ago? Maybe, maybe, I'm not in legal. But often we have this fear of, it's like fear of missing content.

It's like, "Oh no, if I get rid of that, then I won't have it." But information, just like language, just like the way we think, just like the way our teams grow, it changes. And so we need to be aware of that. As we are changing as a team, you should expect our content to change. And part of that is shedding that old stuff. So it's always worth it, like if you're questioning it, ask another subject matter expert and be like, "Hey, I'm pretty sure we don't need this anymore, or we should revise this. What do you think?" But if nobody has any qualms, you should probably delete it.

Henri Seymour:

No, that's great. I am a big fan of decluttering, even digital decluttering. It's, I want people to find stuff and the less pile there is, the easier it's going to be.

Matt Reiner:

Yes. Because somehow bad information is less helpful than no information.

Henri Seymour:

Yes. It's like coming across a question and they're like, "Oh, I tried doing it this way." I'm like, "Oh, that way doesn't work anymore. You're going to have to do... Where did you find that written down? I'll go update out." It's-

Matt Reiner:

Yeah.

Henri Seymour:

... new people doing stuff. The best way to understand where your documentation is falling over. It's the same as you're never going to understand how your product documentation and that your product itself is failing your users until they come to you and tell you, "Why can't I do this thing?"

Matt Reiner:

Yeah. Yeah. In fact that that power of bringing in someone new on your team is so amazing. And it's almost hard to impart like first day of onboarding like, "You have fresh eyes, please use them. This is called an inline comment, please put it everywhere." I remember going through our human resources employee handbook, which we had just created not too long before I joined. And I remember them telling me, "If there's any questions, at mentioned us." And I was really afraid to do that. But we corrected a lot of things.

For example, we mentioned do these things on... What was it called after HipChat? The product that lived and died so quickly.

Henri Seymour:

I think I missed that one.

Matt Reiner:

Oh, the one that Atlassian made and then they sold it to Slack.

Henri Seymour:

Now, where do I even start on that?

Matt Reiner:

How am I... It was a great app, I really liked it. But we mentioned in the employee handbook to use that. And I'm like, "Oh, I think we're using Slack now, we should update this content." That's stuff that HR is never going to go through and catch, but your new employees can do that. New people are the best way to tell you if your processes are bad, if your content is better. Maybe not bad, but they're bringing in something new. That's why we added them to the team. And they should not be afraid from day one to ask questions, or poke holes in our already messed up or failing process.

Henri Seymour:

Yeah. And I can really see the benefit of the tools in Confluence, like that inline comment. Even if you don't know how you need that page updated or what the new version's supposed to be. It's just coming in fresh, you can go, "Oh, this is weird, or incomplete, or it might be wrong." It's just a little comment. You don't have to change it yourself, just say something. Here's a way to speak up without changing it yourself. And somebody who does know is going to be able to change it for you.

I was excited to hear you talk about information architecture. That's something I only got introduced to last year also. Do you have a general explanation of what information architecture is and why it's relevant to documentation?

Matt Reiner:

Oh, information architecture is, there are whole, people, professionals whose entire career is coming in and helping you. So I'm not one of those professionals, I just play one on TV. Really in essence, information architecture is breaking down what would be a wall of text into a pattern of information that anyone's mind can connect to. That's the real and ultimate goal, and that starts by just breaking up logical chunks. In fact, in a lot of pure technical writing, you break the content into tiny, tiny pieces, chunks or some technical communicators talk about atoms of information, really tiny pieces.

And then once you've broken that down and said, "These are separate pieces," then you assemble them together in an order that makes sense. In fact, you can also do really cool stuff with content reuse in Confluence, using include macros and the new Excerpt Include Macro is very cool in cloud, because you can do new stuff with that. But it's really about breaking apart all your content, figuring out what's the order of all of this? What's most important? What's more specific? What is important for everyone? What's important for just a few people?

And then just going down like you would with an XML structure or any other sort of hierarchy and tier that information using your spaces, your pages, your headings. And then finally bullets and paragraphs and that kind of thing.

Henri Seymour:

Thanks for getting that generally explained. Is there anything you want to mention in your work at the moment that you would be interested in getting readers onto?

Matt Reiner:

Yeah, totally. A major new effort for me, because I'm just this content explorer, I guess. I've done like technical content, I've written some marketing content. I started speaking, which I enjoy speaking. I got to speak in front of one live audience before... No, I guess a few, and then, the world's shut down for good reason. Because when you're breathing out on a bunch of people, you want to make sure that you're not potentially putting them at risk. So been doing a lot of virtual speaking.

But recently, I mentioned, we've worked on all these best practices on Rock the Docs. And so we've started this video series about Confluence best practices and it's been very exciting to figure out, "Okay, so I know how to create fairly good in Confluence, how to structure that content. Now, can we make a good video?" And it turns out, no, not at first. Made some pretty poor ones or ones that just took way too much time to make. And finally, as you do with any kind of content, we finally got a good structure, a good rhythm. And we also found what are those things people really want to hear about?

And so we've developed 16 of these now on our YouTube channel that are just out there for administrators to share with your users who are asking these questions. Or maybe these are for users directly who just want to subscribe and get these things. But it's like eight minutes of just as much information as we can pack and still speak fairly legible English. And then show just like how do you do this in Confluence? Why would you do this in Confluence? What are the things you should consider in Confluence? What are the best ways to do things in Confluence?


We've actually just started a series of live streams as well, where we're trying to look at those more in depth and then have people live listening in, asking questions and directing the whole thing. So far those have been really great and we're looking to do more of that. So the more people who pile into those, the more direction y'all get to give that content. But it's been new types of content that it's exciting to see, okay, our good written content in Confluence is coming to the real world in a new format. Which has been cool and challenging and fun and scary all at the same time.

Henri Seymour:

Yeah. That's sounds like a really exciting project. Rock the Docs is going audio-visual. And I can-

Matt Reiner:

That's right.

Henri Seymour:

... figure what... Get users on there to give you that iterative feedback that we talked about at the beginning. And so is this worth the thumbs up? Do you have comments? What else can we do? And especially in that sort of live stream webinar format, you get that direct contact with your users so you can find out what they're needing. That's that's fantastic. Probably see if I can come along with those. Easy Agile started using Scroll Viewport for cloud specifically earlier this year.

Matt Reiner:

Oh, cool. Oh, cool.

Henri Seymour:

So that's been a major improvement for us actually.

Matt Reiner:

Oh, good. Yeah. I'm just loving what the cloud team is putting out. It's so exciting and so polished and it's just like every team has that documentation space, and Viewport, it lets you put it out there and you're like, "Ah, looks so great. We're so proud of it." You can read it on any device. It's just like it's the magic that everybody wants, but no team has time. Our very few teams have time to make it look that good, so it's nice to have Viewport just do the heavy lifting.

Henri Seymour:

We've got the Confluence space, we've got the documentation. We don't have to make a website about it. It's just, "Go ahead, please make this website happen. Here's what we need on it. Here's the structure." And golly, it looks a lot better now, even just aesthetically, it looks a lot nice in the house.

Matt Reiner:

Yes. And it's nice to know that like some designer peered over the spacing between navigation items to decide how spaced out they should be. And as a writer, I can just like, I don't have to care. I don't have to care. I can throw in Confluence macros and stuff, and they just look really great when they're published. And I don't know how or why, but I'm happy. I can just keep writing. Yeah.

Henri Seymour:

Yeah.

Matt Reiner:

It would be great to have someone from Easy Agile join us for one of those live streams. Because what we're really focusing on is just like great way to do things in Confluence. We haven't jumped into Jira yet. I'm not as much of an expert in Jira, but I have thought about it because that content doesn't really exist yet. But it's not necessarily app-focused or K15t app-focused. It's just like one of the best ways you've found to do certain things in Confluence, and we're just sharing those with people alive, and it's a lot of fun.

Henri Seymour:

Yeah, that sounds great. I've got the parallel of get really into Jira and making Jira apps and Confluence is, "Yeah, we've got a Wiki. This is where we write stuff down." And it is great to have stuff like "There's the visuals on our docs page." But I don't do those. I'm busy making visuals in a Jira app. I don't want to think about that spacing. I've got my own spacing to do.

Matt Reiner:

Yeah. Yeah.

Henri Seymour:

And it really is that, I can just do the writing, I can just do product. I can do my job more because this other stuff taken care of because the experts at K15t have made that happen. And I hope that our apps can do a similar thing for their users of, this is the thing we need, we don't have to think about this. Bring in this app and it will solve a problem for us. It'll help us see what we need to and organize our information in Jira. Which is a different type of information again, but.

Matt Reiner:

Yeah, yeah. It's funny. I've talked with some people who have actually described that whole app part of Confluence in Jira as App Hell. That's a term that I've seen and I can't help but love the community because we all come up with this stuff. But app hell is, it really comes out of not understanding what a platform is partially. For example, if you're using the Salesforce platform, yeah, that's going to be app hell if you really want Salesforce to be a marketing platform. Because Salesforce is a sales platform. But then there's apps, and Salesforce happens to a sell big one. And then all of a sudden it's a marketing platform.

So that is a really interesting perspective shift for people who are used to a tool that just does one thing. Everybody thinks Excel does everything. It doesn't, we really should just use it for spreadsheets, everybody. It's not a platform for other things. Confluence is really good at these core things, Jira is really good at these core things. And then these apps, they come in to answer the questions that don't have answers and do the things that can't be done. And that's why. So is it App Hell or is it App Heaven? That's the real question. Or maybe it's maybe it's App Purgatory, I don't know. I guess the listeners gets to decide.

Henri Seymour:

The constant stream of, and yet another app needs to update. Which to be fair, I think is not a problem on cloud at this point. That's an exclusively an on-premise problem, the constant app update cycle. But we are hopefully moving towards the end of the purgatory perhaps.

Matt Reiner:

Yes. Yes. I think we're all ascending together. We're just reaching new heights all at the same time.

Henri Seymour:

Is there anything else you'd like to bring up while we talking tech docs?

Matt Reiner:

I guess, I typically go back to when I was in university, I had a manager there who told us in this on campus job that I had, "Our job is to connect people with the resources that are already around them. You're not a teacher, you're just here to connect people." And that has really stuck with me. And that is essentially what we all do. Whether we're building a product that connects people with resources or that is the resource or we're contributing to documentation or some kind of content.

We're really trying to enable people to do that greater thing, that higher level thing that is above our content, it's above our product. It's that thing that they truly care about and any part we get to play and that greater thing, that better thing. That's what it's all about.

Henri Seymour:

Yeah, that's really great perspective. That's probably also a really great thing to round off the end of the podcast with.

Matt Reiner:

I guess so.

Henri Seymour:

Yeah. Thank you very much for joining us, Matt, and for talking all things technical documentation with us on the Easy Agile Podcast.

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