The Pizza-Lover's Guide to Knowledge Management Tools

The Pizza-Lover's Guide to Knowledge Management Tools

The world is full of great documentation tools. After 10 years of bouncing around nearly all of them, I’m here to give you an overview of some of my favorites as they compare to Pizza.

The Pizza Framework

As a product manager, a significant portion of my job is to make things easier to understand.

Make our business goals easier to understand for engineers, make our engineering progress easier to understand for the business, and make my crippling imposter syndrome easier to understand for my 27-year-old life-coach.

Like any great product manager, I do this by applying unapologetically strict frameworks.

In this example, the Pizza Framework is a system I've designed for moments when I'm in need of a universal reference point for a complex or nuanced product.

For example, when my friends ask me, "Brian, you're in technology, what's an NFT?" I respond, "it's like Little Caesar’s pizza".

By applying the Pizza Framework, in only a few words everyone immediately knows that, not unlike Little Caesar's pizza, NFT's are something a lot of people buy thinking they're getting something delicious, when they are in fact getting a flavorless imitation of pizza that rapidly degrades in value the moment it exits the oven.

Now, let's apply this framework to our product documentation tools to demonstrate first-hand the effectiveness of the Pizza Framework.

The Menu

Confluence = Cheese Pizza
GitHub = Pineapple Pizza
Notion = The Calzone
Google Docs = Totino’s Pizza Rolls
Coda = Neapolitan Pizza

That’s it. Technically speaking, we could end here as you have all the information you need to make a well-informed decision about which documentation tool will be best for you.

However, if for some reason you feel you need further explanation, feel free to continue reading for additional elaboration.

Confluence = Cheese Pizza

Confluence is your gold standard of product documentation tools. This is a shame, because it's pretty basic. Given all the options out there, Confluence will by far be the most common and the least interesting.

But, alas, if your product is a JIRA organization, Confluence is probably going to be the safest bet to get started with if you’re trying to please the most people.  

  • It's easily accessible by your teams.
  • It has robust integration within the JIRA suite allowing you to easily connect work to documentation.
  • Typically, everyone is familiar with it and will likely have access to it if you’re in the majority of orgs using Atlassian products as their primary task management suite.

GitHub = Pineapple Pizza

Product managers that prefer GitHub as their primary documentation tool will be well-liked by software engineers, perhaps even respected.

Unfortunately, there will be a vast portion of your organization that will never even consider reading your documentation. Just seeing the GitHub logo is often enough to stop most non-technical stakeholders in their tracks. Pair that with its complete lack of visual interest and navigational tooling, and GitHub sits square at the bottom of my top 5.

  • Highly alienating.
  • Extremely useful to some.
  • Completely unacceptable to others.

Notion = The Calzone

Notion is packed full of features that, when you’re using it alone, make it an amazing documentation tool. It's customizable, compact, and is generally easy to dig into.

Unfortunately, it's rare that I see any teams of significant size using Notion. While it's certainly possible to share notion documentation and run teams with it, it's just not commonly done.

  • Jam packed full of great features and an excellent note taking and organization tool for personal use.
  • Not optimized for using across any teams/orgs of significant size.
  • Looks basic when you first start but can be amazing when you dig in.

Google Docs = Totino’s Pizza Rolls

Google docs just get the job done. If you want to the fastest, most universally sharable documentation system, Google Docs is the obvious choice.

Are the tools rich with features and packed with cool content to make you to go “Cool!”.

No.

Do the tools at least connect with your task management system in a really simple way?

No.

Do I use Google docs in some form every day? Yes. Yes, I do.

No one will be impressed with your documentation. You may not even like yourself for using it. But that’s not the point. Sometimes you just need to feed people, and that’s ok.

  • Easy to spin up very quickly with almost 0 learning curve.
  • Extremely sharable and unparalleled ability to collaborate in real-time.
  • Each doc is highly self-contained, so navigating around docs is a little clunky.

Coda = Neapolitan Pizza

Bias Disclaimer: Neapolitan is my favorite pizza and Coda is my favorite documentation tool. And although I would accept money from @Coda, they are not paying me to say this.

Coda is awesome. If Notion (incredibly delicious documentation tool) and Google Docs (incredibly shareable) climbed into a pizza oven together and got cookin', Coda is what Chef would pull out 9 minutes later. It's so feature dense and customizable that, beyond documentation, you could run your entire product team within Coda and be extremely effective.

  • Highly customizable and easy to build great output very quickly.
  • Getting more and more popular by the day.
  • Can be used far beyond documentation with robust in-app tools.

Every Good Framework Needs a Graphic

That’s basically it, but no framework is complete without a complimentary graphic. I present to you everything I’ve described, plotted on the universal deliciousness to shareability matrix.

Graphical user interface, application

Description automatically generated

That’s all for now,
Brian