More questions. More help. Introducing Mastering Table Topics Second Edition.

If a feature isn’t documented, it doesn’t exist

Owner's manual for a new adjustable bedMy wife and I were shopping for a new adjustable bed. We found the one we wanted and got a demonstration about the importance of technical writing.

We had a list of features we wanted. One thing on my wish list was a bed that I could control with my smartphone. I’m a professional nerd, so why not remain nerdy when I’m asleep? It was also a matter of convenience. Remotes can be lost, but we always keep our smartphones with us. When we asked specifically for a Bluetooth-driven controller, bed stores tacked $100 or more to the price of the bed.

We finally went to a discount bed store near our home. They had a floor model at a steep discount. The salesperson didn’t know if the bed had Bluetooth or not. But the price was so good, we couldn’t pass it up. We got a nice bed, but it wouldn’t be the Bluetooth-controlled, app-driven one of my dreams.

As we waited for the bed to be delivered, I decided to do some research into our new slumber device. I went to the manufacturer’s website and downloaded the owner’s manual, because that’s what technical writers do. It said nothing about Bluetooth, but it showed a closeup of the bed’s remote with the logo of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of the bed’s controller and motors. I went to the OEM’s website and learned that the controller has a Bluetooth version. When the bed was delivered, I checked the model number of the remote and controller. It was the Bluetooth version! I went back to the OEM’s website and found the instructions for downloading the app and connecting my phone to the bed. I really did get my app-driven bed, and we went to sleep happy.

Here’s the thing: I shouldn’t have needed to do that extra research to find out I had the Bluetooth model.

Had the bed’s manufacturer put that information in the owner’s manual, a lot of people would have benefitted. The manufacturer would gain a competitive edge by offering Bluetooth and a smartphone app as a feature. The bed store could have charged more for the bed and sold that floor model more quickly. As consumers, my wife and I would have been happier and more confident we made the right choice. It also would have been easier for me to set up the app.

Because the feature wasn’t documented, no one knew it existed. If I hadn’t done the research, I’d be disappointed thinking that I didn’t have a feature that I actually had.

Companies don’t usually consider documentation as something that can help sales and improve the bottom line. Here’s a case when it could have. It shows how having quality documentation can help all of us sleep better at night.

Also published on Medium.