Saturday, 4 July 2015

Improving Documentation ROI: Part 4 - Time Costs

In Part 1 we looked at what ROI is, and how to calculate it.
In Part 2 we looked at the broad area of improving ROI by reducing costs.
In Part 3 we looked in a bit more detail at direct costs, and specifically direct financial costs.

In Part 4, we're going to look at direct time costs.

Time is the one thing you can't make back.  If you invest £1000, you might make it back if your investment pays off.  If you invest 1000 man hours, that time is gone, forever, no matter how the investment pays off.  For that reason saving time is possibly more important than saving money, even though as we've discussed previously, time = money. 

Part 3 we looked at an example calculation of ROI on paying for a screen capture tool.  That calculation relied on knowing the cost of a help desk consultant and a technical writer per week, but that's not necessarily information you'll have.  If you can't use the financial cost saving as your ROI figure, what is the best way to calculate ROI and provide a figure that the decision makers in your company can put a known value on?

Well, time = money (I'll keep hammering that point home), and your management will know how much one person's time is worth and be able to translate that into a financial figure if they want.  So really you don't ever need to put a financial cost against someone's time, you can just calculate the time saving and let others worry about working out the financial saving from that.  Let's look at an example of a time cost saving with the ROI calculation:

Assume your help desk gets 200 tickets a week, of which 20 tickets (10%) are requests for information about the configuration of the web server that your product needs.  These tickets take on average 15 minutes to resolve from start to finish.  15 minutes x 20 tickets = 300 minutes (5 hours).  It would take you 10 hours (600 minutes) to write a configuration guide that would answer at least half of these requests for information before they ever get to the help desk.  The configuration guide will need to be updated 4 times a year in line with the release cycle, and it will take 3 hours (180 minutes) to update the configuration guide each time.  What is the ROI on the work for this configuration guide?

Cost: 600 + (4 x 180) = 1320 minutes.
Gain: 150 x 52 = 7800 minutes

7800 - 1320 = 6480
6480 / 1320 = 4.9

So the ROI for this work is 490% over 1 year.  And that's a minimum - remember that the
configuration guide will answer at least half of those tickets, but it might answer more, so the ROI might be even better.  In future years the return will grow yet again, because the cost will no longer include the 600 minutes it took to write the original guide.  The gain that will come from updating the guide 4 times a year makes this idea a no-brainer.

There are innumerable situations and contexts where new or better documentation will be able to save people in your organisation time.  When it comes to increasing the ROI of documentation for your product, talk to the people who design it, develop it, test it, market it, demonstrate it, sell it, install it, configure it, administer it, support it and, most importantly because they're the customers, the people who use it.  Ask them what they wish was explained somewhere, what questions they get asked the most, what the most complicated or difficult things they do with the software are, which bits of the documentation aren't up to scratch, what documentation they want to have, and then work out how you can create or amend your documentation to answer that question, solve that problem, make that process more efficient, or save someone a job.  Because if you want to increase your ROI, you'll have to know what will save people time, and what won't.

I could talk about suggestions for saving other people time with new or better documentation all day, but you know your organisation better than I do so I'll leave it to you to take that idea and run with it. Although this post will be one of the shortest in the series, the concept of improving your ROI by saving people time has probably the most potential for reward, so don't hesitate to do your research and find ways to deliver time-saving documentation wherever you can.

But if you want to write all this fantastic time-saving and ROI-improving documentation, you're going to need some time of your own, right?  How do you make that time when you're already neck deep in work?

Hold that thought, because we'll cover it in Part 5.....