The term "living document" refers to a process often used in the field of information technology, but is used elsewhere in other similar disciplines. In particular, it is the practice of creating a maintained, accurate document, throughout the process of a project, that can be referenced before, during and long after the process itself.

If you are familiar with the scientific method, the creation of a living document will not seem all that foreign. In general, there are three recursive steps to the process.
  • Identifying the problem: In this step, the author(s) determine the focus of the document, the strategy and structure to be applied, and the desired outcome. Particular care is made to assure that the document is both flexible and thorough, thus assuring a certain level of modularity.
  • Solving the problem: This is the stage at which most of the document is written. Processes are sketched out and expanded; areas of concentration are developed to create the methods by which the solution will be accomplished. The means of gathering metrics, should they be applicable (and usually are), are discussed. At this point, the problem can be attacked, with all involved now having a good understanding of the desired end result.
  • Dissemination and integration of information: At this point, the document is distributed to a larger audience, both to educate and to solicit feedback. Document reviews are an important part of this process. The document is continually critiqued during the duration of the project. Finally, post-mortem analysis is peformed, to see what went well, what needed improvement, and ways to streamline the process itself are discussed. The most important concept to remember, in this stage, is the assurance that all of these things are used in keeping the document updated. After its creation, the document is not simply "finished". All relevant feedback and analysis is prepared for inclusion back into the document itself, also taking care to assure that all information included is in a maintainable format. More often than not, records will be kept within the document itself, regarding who made changes, what changes were made, and when various reviews of the document's contents were made.

As previously mentioned, living documents are important parts of the software development life cycle, especially SDLC models that feature cyclical development; They are used a great deal in product and design development, as well as in the quality assurance documentation process. This said, even a software group following a linear devlopment cycle, such as the "waterfaill", can stand to gain a great deal from using living documents, as a well-written piece of software (or even a poorly-written one!) will often find its code being re-used in other products. Thus, the ability to go back and retrace steps is of utmost importance, and a true timesaver.

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