Server Fault is a question and answer site for system and network administrators. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Let's say a large enterprise opens a new office in (insert random location here) and want the new colleagues up to speed as fast as possible. Let's also say this enterprise is a very typical one with a complex environment, lots of history and almost full lack of documentation.

What's already been decided is that the new colleagues will receive howto-style documentation for the most typical tasks and will get seme architecture documentation for some of the more complicated systems.

Any ideas about improving this process? And more specifically, what should such a howto document look like to be helpful?

share|improve this question
Assimilation tubules? :-) – Kyle Brandt Apr 19 '10 at 12:02
For me? Nah :-) – Zizzencs Apr 19 '10 at 13:25
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would spend the time you have writing a document that gives a good overview of the big picture with all the major components for whatever their area is. Then they can use it as a reference, and an overview of what they may need to learn. So for example, if you have big cluster setups draw pictures of those. If they are network admins at least put together a decent diagram of the company's network.

From there, I would start documenting anything that is unusual about the environment, followed by anything that is particularly advanced or complicated.

If these are lower level positions where they will be doing mostly repetitive tasks then the howtos make sense to me, but if they are more advanced positions then the big picture combined with the unusal/complex documentation I described makes the most sense.

share|improve this answer
I'm a bit afraid that the lower level colleges won't be able to determine which howto they should follow. Any advice to handle that? – Zizzencs Apr 19 '10 at 13:26
Flow Chart that maps to certain howtos? – Kyle Brandt Apr 19 '10 at 13:58
"Computer not work!!! Help!!!" :-D Hard to produce a flowchart for that but I can try. – Zizzencs Apr 19 '10 at 14:03
Well with something generic like that, you need someone with decent help desk skills and good communication skills. If they don't have that already, just going to have to be patient I think, "You get what you pay for" kind of applies for skilled labor too. – Kyle Brandt Apr 19 '10 at 14:27

I set up a wiki at our office to capture snippets of knowledge as the devs had time to write stuff. The boss was only willing to allow "full and complete documents" so he wanted sharepoint instead. Since no dev had time to do "dull and complete docs" there were none written, and as the PHB banned the wiki, we're back to where we were a couple years ago.

share|improve this answer
Awesome. "The perfect is the enemy of the good", always a classic. – mfinni Apr 19 '10 at 16:53

If the systems are properly documented no extra steps are required. Any sysadmin worth the name should be able to determine what needs to be done and how it s to be done based on the system documentation, although a run-through by an experience staff member will of course make things even simpler for them.

When a system is properly documented the entire IT staff could be run over by that proverbial bus and new staff should be able to get up to speed very quickly without assistance. If that's not the case in your organisation it needs urgent rectification.

share|improve this answer
Well, that would be the case in an optimal world. Unfortunately as I mentioned there is not much documentation ready and the new ones will just be howtos for specific problems. – Zizzencs Apr 19 '10 at 11:05
Don't waste time with the how-tos. Spend that time on proper and vastly more valuable documentation instead. If you meet resistance from higher up just point out that poor or no documentation can easily bring a company down. Plus, in many localities the documentation is required to meet various legal obligations that companies have. – John Gardeniers Apr 19 '10 at 22:16

Start by creating an internal wiki and use that base as a place to document. I have been doing that at my work for some time now and the information there just gradualy appears as its needed.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.