Cost of Not Documenting Your Work

Jun 24, 2023
Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Documentation is frequently seen as important, but at the same time, too costly to spend time working on. But the real cost occurs after the project has been completed. Stakeholders rarely think about documentation as part of their requests and analysts will usually state that they are too busy to create documentation, even though everyone will assert that documentation is important. Analysts will rush through a task and on to the next task without documenting their work, even though they likely spent hours during the week searching for other documentation to help them do their job.

If you’re creating a new dashboard, chances are you built a new table or view, a pipeline, and a dashboard.  In this situation, you’d need documentation for each of these items.  The amount of time that it takes to create proper documentation can take approximately 5-60 minutes per document, but this depends on the complexity and level of detail of the project. However, when documentation templates are used, the time to create documentation will be reduced.

If we assume that these 3 documents take 3 hours at most to complete, spending this time may seem like an excessive cost during your project work.  But if it took 20 hours to build the dashboard, creating documentation would only add a 15% cost to the total project.  I wouldn’t consider this to be excessive, but also not trivial. Again, I’m using this as a worst-case scenario. But what is the cost of not documenting your work?


Cost of Not Documenting Your Work

If a stakeholder that can’t find your dashboard because it isn’t part of an indexed list, valuable time will be taken away from their day. They will easily spend 15 minutes and possibly a lot more time, hunting through dashboards in Tableau or Power BI, requesting access to various dashboards, which take valuable time from other team members. And this is all in the hope that the dashboard happens to be what the stakeholder is looking for. Many times, the stakeholder will realize after all this effort that the dashboard that they now have access to, doesn’t contain the desired information. What seems like a one-time event of 15 minutes is anything but that.

The stakeholder’s efforts, plus the time that they cost others, just to find out what dashboard can lead to hours of lost time. Meaning, one or two situations like this can more than pay for the cost of creating the initial documentation. But there are other costs, such as context switching, that are associated with searching for assets and documentation.

If you are in the middle of a task and get interrupted by a chat message, email, or someone stopping by your desk, there’s a good chance that the interruption derailed your train of thought.  This derailment could cause you to spend 5-15 minutes to get back to your original train of thought. Again, we’re only talking about one interruption. When you experience these interruptions multiple times per day, they can have an extremely negative impact to your productivity.

Where the lack of documentation becomes extremely costly is when work is duplicated. If you’ve ever worked on building a table or dashboard, only to later find out that someone built a similar asset, you know what I’m talking about. It’s common for analytics teams to build near duplicates of dashboards and other assets. But if proper documentation existed, it could save an analyst from re-inventing a dashboard. In my original example, by spending at most 3 hours on documentation, this documentation could save 20 hours of effort by another team member that would duplicate your dashboard.  But the costs don’t end there.

When duplicate assets are created, they place extra load on the database. This might not always be viewed as a cost in terms of lost time, but there is a financial cost since your company is paying for storage and CPU cycles. Also, duplicate assets are rarely true-duplicates and are more likely to be near-duplicates. This leads to multiple sources of truth and confusion across the organization. In a single meeting of 6 people, mention of a conflicting dashboard or piece of data can derail a conversation, causing those 6 people to spend 30 minutes discussing the duplicate and conflicting data. This not only becomes a waste of 3 hours of total employee time, but the analyst will spend additional time investigating the two different sources of truth, which also don’t have helpful documentation.



While documentation seems costly during a project, the real cost is what happens after the project has been completed. The long-term costs due to lack of documentation far surpass any up-front costs of creating it. But creating documentation will reduce confusion, multiple sources, and duplicate work. Also, it will allow you, the analyst or engineer, to showcase your work, which is like free advertising and marketing of your work and your personal brand. Not only does this help you grow in your career, but it saves you and your co-worker’s valuable time.

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