If you want them to RTFM them make a better FM

This image came through my twitter feed recently.


It resonated with me very deeply. People are becoming far more resourceful in the way that access information.

There was a time (before I was in the field, I heard they connected stone tablets together to make something called Token Ring?) where when you bought a Catalyst switch for example it came with a tome. This tome contained information about configurations, output and troubleshooting information. Think of it as a paper version of the DOCCD because that is what it was. It had vast reams of information pertaining to Installation, Configuration, Management, and Operations. These books had diagrams, configuration snippets, and code examples. They highlighted some of the best manuals at the time.

As this transitioned online there was reference material easily (debatable) sourced from vendor websites. Images and interactive supplements or reference materials were added. Entire documents such as reference architectures were linked to show solutions. This added value to the product, the vendors offering, and enabled customers to get the most from their product.

As people push products now we see the rise of quick development cycles. Agile and Lean methodologies (The waterfall has stopped flowing guys!) see products reach GA or MVP quickly. The problem that arises is the time to market has decreased for new products. This has seen many products suffer in the documentation department. When people say RTFM there often is no manual or a very poor scraping together for a manual. It may consist of just some basic configurations and flavor text. Maybe some high level overview. This isn’t enough.

The quality of a manual and online support material plays into many facets of an investment. During pre-purchase someone may investigate the quality of online documentation to gain insight into feature sets, outputs of a device or product, and it’s applicability. An administrator will look into how to configure a new feature, troubleshoot some settings or get better output. If there is poor online documentation or lack there of then this can impact a perspective of a vendor.

I hold Cisco very high in the documentation department. When a product release there is a detailed configuration guide, operation guide, command guide and more often than not, a reference architecture or solution overview. This is amazing when it comes to assessing the suitability of a product.

As a vendor, if someone told you to go RTFM, ask yourself “Is your FM up to scratch?”

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