Product engineering productivity software maker Shortcut has added a documentation system to its software called Docs.
Docs is tightly integrated with the rest of the Shortcut approach to product development, which Shortcut calls the Shortcut Way. The aim is to provide project and related documentation right in the same tool used to manage the rest of the work, to make it easy to find and maintain.
Docs is the result of specific customer feedback from early beta users who kept using the tool despite real development being paused for nearly two years. Docs was destined to be an internal tool used by the Shortcut development team.
“We started to see a set of customers were still using it, every day or every week, and we went to talk to them and said ‘Hey, we don’t have anybody working on this, why are you still using it?’” said Kurt Schrader, CEO and co-founder of Shortcut.
“The message came back ‘We have so many tools, we have all this stuff all over the place. Nobody ever knows where to look for anything,’” he said. Customers were using Docs to start writing a design document or product strategy and then turn pieces of it into stories or epics (in Agile terminology), tightly integrated into their development process.
Docs is not a general-purpose document writing tool. It’s not designed to replace Microsoft Word or Google Docs or InDesign. It is designed specifically for capturing and communicating long-form documentation inside a project. You could do the same thing in a more generic tool, and many try, but it’s generally much more difficult to integrate it into your project workflow.
“Docs can become the core of what everybody in a project is looking at, and then everything spans out from there,” said Schrader.
Elliot Katz, Senior Director of Engineering at Thirty Madison, is one customer that has embraced Shortcut as the core of their process.
“Shortcut is the most meaningful thing I look at every morning. I look at the sprint. I see what’s in progress. I look at what’s in code review. I see if there are any comments people left. I look to see what’s next up. All of our sprint stand-up meetings revolve around Shortcut. We also go through Shortcut with our Board,” said Katz.
Shortcut takes an opinionated approach to product management, which it lays out in its Shortcut Way. It’s a manifesto of sorts, a statement of how Shortcut thinks product development should happen, based on its experiences with hundreds of customers. It helps explain why Shortcut works the way it does.
“There’s always a subset of customers who want to do things a different way, like they want to configure everything, but it’s a pretty small subset,” says Schrader. “They’re loud. 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 families instead of coming up with their own way to optimize and run an engineering and product team.”
Shortcut aims to provide a—you guessed it—shortcut to an effective way of working for those people.
I like that Shortcut is up front about how it thinks work should happen so that you can see why they’ve made certain design choices. Too many tools either try to be all things to all people, and descend into a highly-configurable mess of complexity (cough Jira cough), or they don’t explain why they’ve made certain choices and you’re forever fighting the tool that simply refuses to work the way you think it should.
But existing habits are hard to break. I’m not sure that Docs on its own will be enough to move people away from other ways of writing documentation, but then it doesn’t have to completely break those habits. If using Docs inside Shortcut works well enough for its limited purpose, but it’s so well integrated that leaving to do things another way is just a bit too hard, sheer laziness will make it compelling for most humans.
Ultimately, Shortcut wants to remove friction for those who enjoy working the way Shortcut is designed to work. The fact that you will experience friction if you try to do things out of step with the Shortcut Way is supposed to be a feature, not a bug.
The success of Shortcut’s approach will be measured by the success of its customers. If enough customers find success in working the way Shortcut wants them to work, then Shortcut can declare victory. If not, then the Shortcut Way may need to find a more direct route for its customers to take.