Technical documentation is a set of instructions and information intended to equip other developers with the context they need to understand custom-written code.
When handing off custom software to other developers, clear and thorough documentation is essential. It can also be complex, so the best way to develop documentation is to keep organized notes throughout development. When it’s time to hand off a set of code, all you’ll need to do is revisit and update your notes, then compile them into a set of instructions that any developer can understand.
Never underestimate the importance of documentation. Developers who provide professional and thorough documentation will save themselves and others future headaches that can otherwise result from double-working or unnecessary mistakes.
Here are 10 tips from subject-matter expert, Rico Callirgos, for creating technical handover documentation and smoothly transferring custom code:
1. Plan ahead to hand off code.
Give yourself a month to fully transfer custom code. Spend the first two weeks of that month writing documentation and training the new developers. Spend the last two weeks in a support role, answering questions that come up as the new developers work with the code.
2. Include a high-level view of the software architecture.
Provide a document with a high-level view of the application. This software architecture overview should illustrate how the different elements and functions of the application work together.
3. Provide a database schema.
A high-level view of the database schema shows other developers how various types of information relate to each other within the database. It helps them understand how the data is supposed to be interpreted and what the goals of the system are.
4. Provide step-by-step instructions for completing manual processes.
Some software functions require occasional manual intervention, like pulling reports. Create an exhaustive list of these tasks, then include step-by-step instructions on how to complete each one.
5. Equip other developers to troubleshoot and resolve common bugs that have already been identified.
Make a list of all bugs that have been encountered to date with the software. Include this list in your hand off materials, along with instructions for resolving and troubleshooting these bugs should they resurface with the new developers.
6. Explain how to push new releases.
Write out simple instructions with clear steps for pushing out new releases of the code. This portion of documentation needs to be very straightforward and actionable to save new developers from making costly mistakes.
7. Capture miscellaneous historical details about the code in a “Deprecated” folder.
Details about why you made certain decisions or what kinds of factors were involved at each point of development can be extremely valuable to developers who are new to your code. Historical documentation will save them the trouble of re-inventing the wheel and will equip them with the insight they need to solve problems effectively.
8. Include notes about your source code.
It can be really helpful to include notes highlighting various important sections of your source code. When working with thousands of lines of code, source code sections can help other developers easily find critical pieces.
9. Implement version control procedures.
Once testing is complete and your code is ready for others to work with, you’ll want to commit it to version control. Version control ensures finished code will remain secure and unaffected by future software changes.
Be sure to also follow all additional version control procedures for securing your code for future use.
>> Learn about product version control, RESTful version API URLs, and other version control best practices.
10. Write coding standards.
Good custom code developers always set and follow rules and standards for writing their code. These rules provide continuity to the code, allowing others to understand and work with it easily. Equip other developers to understand and preserve these standards with a list of each rule and examples illustrating how to follow it.