When I started my career in a tightly-knit team of six engineers at a small e-commerce startup, I was struck by the remarkable efficiency of having a centralized hub for all the documents used for planning. We used a single Trello board with four columns—To-do, Doing, Q/A, Done—where the tickets were grouped by feature tags. We’d leverage a dummy ticket as an epic to sketch out the full plan for a feature and link related tickets to it. The rest of the discussions took place in Slack or GitHub Issues.
The setup was rudimentary but stood the test of time. As we expanded into multiple teams, each unit had its own board mirroring the original structure. Managers had a clear picture of where to find stuff, everything was searchable from one spot, and communication impedance was surprisingly low.
A few years down the line, I was fortunate enough to land gigs at larger companies with bigger teams and more corporate structures. What caught me off guard was the chaotic state of planning documents. They were scattered everywhere—RFCs1, ADRs2, Epics, Jira Issues, Subtasks, Design Docs3, you name it. Often, a single team would juggle all these formats to plan and record their work. I’m not claiming every workplace was like this, but it’s more common than I’d like to admit.
The fallout? Discussing a feature or onboarding new people became a pain since explaining any part of the system required going down the rabbit hole of finding the concomitant entry point and traversing its branches. More often than not, the documents weren’t even linked properly, so figuring out which RFCs, ADRs, Epics, or Jira Issues were associated with what feature was a frustrating exercise. Also, they’d quickly go outdated since keeping all of them up to date was a full-time job itself!
This cultural shift doesn’t happen in a day. People, in general, love reading books, blogs, or Hacker News discussions about the engineering practices in FAANG companies and mean well when they try to slowly incorporate these insights into their current teams. But let this osmosis continue for a few years without any oversight, and you’ll end up in a labyrinth of documents, encumbered by stiff structures and other enterprise-y fluff.
Sometimes I wonder if all these theatrics are actually necessary to do the job. Hundreds of
people work on OSS projects where GitHub Issues and Projects are used to coordinate work.
cmd + k lets you find anything, anywhere, allowing immediate access to
feature designs without having to sift through a quagmire of documents in disparate
locations. The ability to access all documentation from a single place is not just
efficient; it’s empowering, especially if it’s housed alongside your code.
Another approach that works well in practice is having a single Jira board per team where an Epic contains all the design decisions of a feature, and individual Task tickets under that are linked to GitHub Issues. This ensures that project managers can have a bird’s eye view of everything without having to log into the code repository, and developers can easily navigate back to the corresponding Task and Epic from the GitHub Issue with a single click.
Whatever the strategy may be, I find it incredibly hard to justify the necessity to fragment these documents behind obscure names and waste time endlessly bikeshedding about whether ADRs should be written before RFCs or vice versa.