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API Documentation Support

eBay

Problem

eBay has earned a reputation among both buyers and sellers on its platform as being easy to use. Recently, based on feedback from partner organizations that sell large volumes of products through the eBay site, it saw a need to improve the documentation it provides for the APIs that these companies use to seamlessly connect their companies’ e-commerce applications with the eBay platform. 

On its developer portal, eBay provides an extensive library of API documentation for these specialized users. The library has grown significantly over the last two decades, even to the point that current users were finding it difficult to locate the specific information they needed. In looking at how to make the developer portal more user-friendly, eBay realized that its process for authoring and publishing this information had become extremely complex, leading to delays. Those delays in turn were slowing down eBay’s release of new software, further frustrating users. A related challenge was that eBay’s internal API development team lacked the bandwidth to support documentation development. 

After looking at multiple alternatives — including hiring more staff or using a staffing company to provide technical writers — eBay approached InfoPros. InfoPros proposed that it provide a project team of technical writers with the requisite API experience, and led by an InfoPros project manager. The team would focus on both developing the required documentation as well as look for process improvements, leveraging its experience doing similar types of work at companies such as Google, Cisco, and TransUnion. The writers would work closely with the eBay developers while the project manager would ensure the team was focused on the priorities set by eBay management. With the InfoPros approach, eBay saw the opportunity to spend less time focused on software documentation and more time on software development and decided to engage InfoPros.

Solution

InfoPros went to work assessing the current state of eBay’s API documentation processes. With extensive experience in software documentation support, we relied on our deep familiarity with such tools as JSON, MadCap Flare, OAS/Swagger, XML, and GitHub. Just as importantly, we assigned a dedicated project manager to “virtually embed” with eBay’s stakeholders in order to ensure that new documentation was being created and delivered to match the cadence of the organization’s software releases. 

As a part of the writing process, our team started testing various APIs to ensure the quality and accuracy of documentation, minimizing the amount of time eBay’s developers spent assisting in documentation development. Within six weeks of the engagement, the InfoPros team had implemented a scrum/sprint-based process, and was successfully delivering on-time API documentation using eBay systems. 

By the third month of our engagement, eBay requested that InfoPros begin to formally analyze the documentation portal authoring process, and provide recommendations for improving the portal itself. InfoPros conducted interviews with key stakeholders across multiple teams, and dove into the portal’s underlying code. This effort resulted in a comprehensive improvement plan, including a redesign of the portal, a reorganization of the content navigation, and a streamlining of the documentation publishing process. To maximize our impact, we structured and presented our plan to eBay as a phased approach to take place over eight months.

Results

Less than two months after receiving our recommendations for improvement, eBay agreed to the overall plan. They also requested that we expand the project team with an additional full-time documentation writer to accelerate the improvements. The roll-out of the recommendations is scheduled to take place in 2021.

In the last 10 months, InfoPros has handled close to 200 documentation requests, including many large updates and new API releases. InfoPros has been involved in the documentation for every major new API released in 2020, including many high-visibility initiatives, such as eBay’s Managed Payments initiative, which has resulted in a fundamental transformation of buying and selling on the platform. Over the same time period, we’ve helped reduce documentation development time by 20%, and vastly improved the portal’s user experience to help onboard and retain new customers.

eBay has been highly satisfied with the API documentation support InfoPros has provided over the first year of our engagement. API documentation has caught up to the schedule of the software releases, and the quality of the documentation has resulted in fewer accuracy issues, reducing some of the burden on Customer Support. Based on how well the engagement is going, eBay has determined not to pursue plans to hire additional internal documentation staff, and continue to outsource the process instead. In addition, eBay is considering expanding the engagement to include broader support for other groups within eBay.