Shortcut adds documents to engineering productivity software

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Product engineering productivity software maker Shortcut has added a documentation system to its software called Docs.

Docs is tightly integrated with the rest of Shortcut’s approach to product development, which Shortcut calls the Shortcut. The objective is to provide the project and related documentation directly in the same tool used to manage the rest of the work, in order to facilitate its search and maintenance.

Docs is the result of specific customer feedback from early beta users who continued to use the tool despite a hiatus in actual development for nearly two years. Docs was intended to be an internal tool used by the Shortcut development team.

“We started to see that a set of customers were still using it, daily or weekly, and we went to talk to them and said ‘Hey, we don’t have anyone working on this, why do you still use it?’ ” said Kurt Schrader, CEO and co-founder of Shortcut.

“The message came back ‘We have so many tools, we have this stuff everywhere. No one ever knows where to look for anything,” he said. Customers used Docs to start writing a design document or product strategy, then turn elements of it into stories or epics (in Agile terminology), tightly integrated into their development process.

Docs is not a general purpose document authoring tool. It is not designed to replace Microsoft Word or Google Docs or InDesign. It is designed specifically to capture and communicate detailed documentation in a project. You could do the same thing in a more generic tool, and many try, but it’s usually much more difficult to fit it into your project workflow.

“Documents can become the heart of what everyone in a project is looking at, and then it all expands from there,” Schrader said.

Elliot Katz, Senior Director of Engineering at Thirty Madison, is one of the clients that has adopted Shortcut at the heart of its process.

“The shortcut is the most meaningful thing I look at every morning. I look at the sprint. I see what’s going on. I look at what’s in the code review. I see if there’s from comments left by people. I’m looking at the follow-up. All of our sprint stand-up meetings revolve around Shortcut. We also go through Shortcut with our board,” Katz said.

Shortcut takes a savvy approach to product management, which it outlines in its Shortcut. It’s kind of a manifesto, a statement of how Shortcut thinks product development should take place, based on his experiences with hundreds of customers. This helps explain why Shortcut works the way it does.

“There’s always a subset of customers who want to do things differently, like they want to configure everything, but that’s a pretty small subset,” says Schrader. “They are noisy. They’ll go on Twitter and say “Hey, I can’t do this in Shortcut, why not?” But there’s a huge percentage of people who just want to go home and see their family instead of finding their own way to optimize and manage an engineering and product team.

Shortcut aims to provide a shortcut – you guessed it – to an efficient way of working for these people.

Analysis

I like that Shortcut is clear about how they think the work should happen so you can see why they made certain design choices. Too many tools try to be everything for everyone and fall into a mess of highly configurable complexity (cough Jira cough), or they don’t explain why they made certain choices and you’re still fighting the tool that just refuses to work the way you think it should.

But existing habits are hard to break. I’m not sure Docs alone will be enough to steer people away from other ways of writing documentation, but it doesn’t have to completely break those habits. If using Docs in Shortcut works well enough for its limited purpose, but it’s so well integrated that letting it be done any other way is a little too much, sheer laziness will make it compelling for most humans.

Ultimately, Shortcut wants to eliminate friction for those who love to work the way Shortcut is designed to work. The fact that you’ll run into friction if you try to do lag things with the shortcut is supposed to be a feature, not a bug.

The success of Shortcut’s approach will be measured by the success of its clients. If enough customers manage to work the way Shortcut wants them to work, then Shortcut can declare victory. If not, the Shortcut Way may need to find a more direct route for its customers.


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