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Last updated on 1/13/20

Document and track your decisions

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Work environments move fast and can be stressful. Staying organized and documenting your process and decisions can help alleviate some of these stresses. Setting goals and determining priorities can also help.

Documentation has many benefits. It creates a record of your progress that can be used for future reference as well as help to organize your work in a way that fosters collaboration. It can also make it easier to pull together a presentation for a client or industry audience. You'll most likely be working on multiple projects at once, so documentation is crucial in order to keep track of everything.

What we're doing feels obvious and makes common sense in the heat of a project, however, when you fast forward 9 months and add six other projects to the mix, be warned that everything that made sense to you at the time won't be as straightforward in the future. It's easy to get your wires crossed or confused with the other work you've been doing. That's the beauty of documenting your work. It is a way to cover your bases and to make your life easier! You'll know what decisions you made, and why.

Work with shared documents

There are countless tools for collaboration. Some are free and others cost money. Depending on how you use them, all options can be highly effective. Before investing big bucks, consider how free tools can accomplish just what you need.

Free tools like shared Google Documents can be powerful for collaboration. Some design teams create presentations for each project in order to track it from a visual and informational standpoint. New information – wireframes, photos, screenshots, charts, analytics, etc. – is updated every couple weeks and is added to the front of the presentation so that it is all in one place. Someone from the team can be tasked with the role of updating, or you may opt to maintain your own document from the projects you work on.

Anyone who joins the document, which is shared in the Cloud, can see the history and comments. In addition to tracking progress, these presentations are also a place to record and ask questions. The benefit to this method is that you have a history of where you started and the steps you took to arrive at where you are now. Examples of "before" and "after" always make for a strong case study in portfolios. If you already have a working document, it will make putting together any presentation or talk much easier because everything is already in one place. Now you just need to decide which are the most important elements for telling your story.

Other teams will use integrated tools like InVision to give feedback directly on prototypes. Whether looking at wireframes or high-fidelity designs, team members and invited guests can leave comments directly on the specific areas of the project. Shared documents are also highly valuable for remote teams. Conversations can happen quickly and can be revisited anytime.

How to add comments in InVision
InVision commenting on a digital prototype.

InVision Support shares simple gifs to show how comments can be left on prototypes in InVision. There are also features that allow you to draw/sketch directly on the screen in order to help visually explain the idea you are trying to communicate. Comments can quickly become conversations between those involved with the project, which means issues and concerts can be addressed right away rather than waiting for the next meeting.

Feedback from clients and stakeholders is just as important as feedback from the immediate team, if not more so. InVision offers a feature called "tours" which helps you walk users through a prototype if you can't be there to present it to them. People can comment from there, adding additional feedback or questions, as well as responding to any questions or versions you may have shared with them.

The tours feature in InVision acts as a product demo for getting feedback. [1:20 min]

Digital tools help make remote collaboration easier than ever, particularly when giving feedback. Many offices have distributed teams, who are often located all around the world, or employees who work remotely at least one day a week. In addition to project management tools, there are other tools to help teams get creative even when they're not in the same place. Mural is one tool that acts like a digital board of sticky notes!
 

Track your decisions

In another scenario, imagine someone comes to you flipping out about something you did and demands to know why you did it. They're angry, and maybe everyone's been working long, hard days on little sleep, so sensitivity is high. 😳  But you know you can stay calm because while documenting your work, you also tracked the decisions you made along the way. You may not have the answer that second, but you know where to go to find the answer.

Remember, everything makes sense in the moment, but later on we often forget why we did something. Was there a technical limitation, time constraint, or insufficient data? There's often a good reason behind choices we've made, but we risk forgetting that reason unless we write it down. That's why it's so important to be conscious about tracking your decisions when you document. 😉

Remember to be clear and succinct when documenting. Be specific and direct. You want to write in a way that anyone on the project can understand. Use images, sketches, screenshots, and annotations in order to communicate ideas clearly. Consider your future self looking for the answer to something.

 Tom Greever is author of the book "Articulating Design Decisions." If the topic interests you, check out his talk from the Push.Conference.  [55 min]

Onboarding new team members

What happens when a new person joins your team? How much time do you have to devote to training them? How can you bring them up to speed quickly on a project that is likely going to change yet again? How can you give new employees and team members an overview of the history of the project in a way that doesn't take all of your time?

Documentation throughout a project should ultimately benefit the project first and foremost, but it can provide the added value of letting people easily enter mid-project and not feel lost. People go on vacation and maternity/paternity leave or leave the office to speak at conferences and attend special events. There are going to to be team changes even when the best planning practices have been put into place.

Let's recap!

  • Documenting your work helps keep everything organized, fosters collaboration, and serves as a reference for the future, including integration into presentations and portfolios.

  • Tracking your decisions is helpful so you can remember why you made certain decisions after time has passed. 

  • Creating GoogleDoc presentations and InVision commenting are two ways that teams can use shared documents to communicate, ask questions, and record decisions.

  • It's easier for someone new to join a project if there is past documentation they can review.  

In the next chapter, we'll examine how a wiki can be used to help organize everything around a project in one place!

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement