Agile documentation: Examples and best practices

Written by 
Bryan Kitch
April 23, 2024
A photo showing people interacting in an office setting, with desks and laptop and desktop computers
Agile documentation: Examples and best practices
Written by 
Bryan Kitch
April 23, 2024

While you’re busy sprinting towards your next release, you can’t afford to neglect one crucial aspect of the development process — documentation. It can be tedious. It’s often overlooked and even forgotten. But it makes all the difference. Let’s talk about documentation.  

In Agile development, there’s often confusion about the role of documentation. While some interpret Agile's focus on “working software over comprehensive documentation” as a call to ditch it entirely, the reality is quite different.

Agile document management isn’t just paperwork; it’s your project’s roadmap for continuous alignment and improvement. To help you out, we’ve put together Mural-tried-and-tested Agile documentation examples and best practices to execute winning projects.

What is Agile documentation?

Agile documentation is the process of creating, maintaining, and sharing relevant information about your projects within an agile framework. Unlike traditional methods that emphasize comprehensive and rigid documentation, Agile focuses on being lightweight, iterative, collaborative, and responsive to change. It’s a light sweater, rather than a double-layered coat. 

Imagine that your team is building a mobile app. In an Agile environment, you don’t have to record every detail, feature, and functionality upfront. Instead, you draft them incrementally as the project progresses.

Typically, Agile documentation consists of just enough information to support the needs of your project and stakeholders. 

Examples of Agile documentation approach

The Agile documentation approach involves creating documents, diagrams, or templates that are simple to understand and help your team make decisions. The most common examples of Agile documentation include:

  • User stories: concise descriptions of a feature or functionality from the end user’s perspective. They typically follow the format of “As a [user role], I want [action] so that [benefit].”
  • Acceptance criteria: Components that define the conditions under which a user story or feature is considered complete and working as expected. They help ensure shared understanding between developers and stakeholders. For example, one acceptance criterion for the following user story — “As a user, I want to be able to search for products on the website” — might be: “When I enter a keyword in the search bar and click the search button, the website should display a list of relevant products.”
  • Sprint backlog: A list of tasks or user stories selected for implementation during a sprint. It outlines the work to be completed by your team within the sprint timeframe.
  • Product backlog: A prioritized list of a product's desired features, enhancements, and fixes. This documentation acts as the single source of truth for your agile team and guides the product development roadmap.
  • Burndown chart: A visual representation of the completed work and the remaining work in a sprint or project. It helps track progress over time and identifies potential delays or bottlenecks.
  • Retrospective notes: Documentation of the team’s reflections and learnings from the previous sprint. It includes what went well, what could be improved, and action items for future sprints.

9 Agile documentation best practices

Here are the nine best practices to help you ace the Agile approach to documentation.

1. Plan your Agile documentation

Start by outlining a documentation strategy that aligns with your project’s goals. Determine which documents are necessary, considering factors such as project size, complexity, and regulatory requirements. Define the scope, format, and frequency of documentation, making sure it meets the needs of both the development team and stakeholders.

Use Mural’s free template library for your Agile documentation to provide consistency and readability. Templates provide a structured format for documenting information, making it easier for your team members to find and understand the content. 

Estimate the time and effort needed to create the documentation to plan your work more effectively and allocate resources accordingly. 

2. Determine the purpose of documents

Clearly define the purpose of each document and relate it to the overall context of your project. 

Don’t fall into the trap of writing documentation just for the sake of it. Instead, ask yourself critical questions for each document:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What information do they need?
  • How will they use the document?
  • Does this document already exist elsewhere?

Following this mindset will help you avoid redundant work and instead focus on adding value and improving existing documentation wherever possible. 

3. Don’t produce documents in a silo

Agile documentation isn’t the sole responsibility of one person or team. Involve all relevant stakeholders, including developers, testers, product owners, and users, in the documentation process.

Consider involving them early on through discovery interviews to find out what documentation is actually needed. It’s like asking your guests if they prefer a casual snack or a full-course meal before spending hours preparing a feast.

Related: How to improve knowledge sharing among teams

4. Store documentation in a centralized platform

Keeping documentation isolated or separated within individual teams, departments, or tools undermines the principles of agility and collaboration. Forrester estimates that data silos consume approximately 2.4 hours of the average employee’s workday as they compel individuals to spend time searching for information that should be readily accessible. 

Use Mural’s cloud-based visual collaboration platform so you don’t have to deal with versioning issues, and your team can access the information they need to make decisions quickly and confidently.

5. Document continuously as you work 

Rather than treating Agile documentation as a separate activity at the end of each sprint, integrate it into your workflow. If you postpone documentation to the later stages of the project, you run the risk of information loss and inaccuracies.

Documenting information as you progress helps you capture information in real time. Use daily stand-up meetings to share progress, identify any blockers, and adjust plans accordingly. Continuous documentation ensures that your information stays aligned with project progress and priorities.

Related: 10 tips for managing competing priorities

6. Avoid overly dense, text-heavy documents

The agile approach to documentation is concise, clear, and easily digestible. Avoid lengthy, text-heavy documents that overwhelm readers and hinder comprehension. 

Break up lengthy paragraphs and use bullet points, headings, and ample white space to enhance readability. People are more inclined to engage with concise documentation (no one wants to write or read 10 pages when they can get the work done in one).

Use visual elements like diagrams, charts, and infographics to illustrate complex concepts or processes in a simple and intuitive manner.

7. Don’t use documentation to replace conversation

Use documentation to supplement conversations, not as a substitute for them. While writing documentation is important for record-keeping and reference, it shouldn’t replace direct communication within your team. Encourage regular discussions, brainstorming sessions, and face-to-face team meetings to foster collaboration and shared understanding.

Let’s pretend your team is working on a new feature for a mobile application again. They have a detailed user story outlining the requirements, acceptance criteria, and technical specifications. In theory, we have a clear framework for the Agile software development process. But your team still needs daily stand-up meetings to discuss progress, share updates, and address any emerging issues. Because people need to people. 

Related: The ultimate team stand-up template

8. Look for opportunities to automate when possible

Using automation is one of the key best practices for Agile documentation that streamlines repetitive tasks and reduces manual efforts. 

For example, use integrated development environments (IDEs) to automatically generate documentation from code comments (allowing devs to effectively code and create documentation at the same time), or adopt project management tools to automate report generation and status updates.  

Automating documentation generation, formatting, or distribution reduces the risk of errors and saves time. In a Salesforce study, 74% of automation users reported that using automation tools helps them get their work done faster. 

9. Document stable concepts, not speculative ideas

Instead of documenting every potential scenario or idea, focus on capturing stable and relevant information to the current project phase. For example, in a software development project, prioritize documenting core functionalities needed for the initial release rather than tentative, potential features that your team hasn’t finalized. 

Level up your Agile document management with Mural

As a collaborative online workspace, Mural takes your Agile documentation to the next level.

With Mural, you can tick off all the Agile documentation best practices by:

  • Transforming abstract concepts and ideas into tangible visualizations, such as user story maps, sprint backlogs, and process flows.
  • Engaging team members in real-time collaboration, async brainstorming, and decision-making sessions.
  • Consolidating all project documentation in one centralized location, ensuring easy access and visibility.
  • Quickly iterating on documentation, incorporating feedback and changes in real time, to keep pace with evolving project requirements and priorities.
  • Integrating with popular Agile project management tools like Jira, Trello, and Asana to easily link documentation directly to tasks, epics, and user stories.

Sign up with Mural today for free to achieve the full agile potential of your team.

About the authors

About the authors

Bryan Kitch

Bryan Kitch

Content Marketing Manager
Bryan is a Content Marketing Manager @ MURAL. When he's not writing or working on content strategy, you can usually find him outdoors.