I work on UX team designing a massive, technically-complex, operations application. Difficult enough to comprehend that documentation will help many users, even if the UX is as intuitive and easy to use as it can be, because of how pieces of the product need to work together.
Our documentation team is understaffed and spread thin, and as a result, our user guides* tend to be the type that just describes, in words, what's on the screen rather than explain what features do or, even better, how those features work together to complete a task.
(* user guide in this context: a collection of pages of written word, perhaps with screen shots and short videos, that's located outside of the application and linked to from inside the application)
I'd like to propose to my team that rather than spreading the documentation team thin, that we focus resources on one area of the application to provide a great self-learning experience. However, that would mean that many areas of the application will have no user guide at all.
What's worse for the user: having a great guide in some places and nothing in other places, or having a user guide for everything but the guide isn't very useful? (If you're thinking the answer is obvious, some things to consider: would no user guide in some areas look like a bug? Would it send a message that we don't care about helping our users? Things like that, outside the usability of the guide, which is just one piece of the user experience puzzle, albeit a major piece.)
I'd love to hear from anyone who has researched how people use user guides today, and the expectation and priority of user guides as part of the entire user experience.
1) Of course, outside of user guides, we'll continue to make our user interface as intuitive as possible, include contextual help, offer discussion forums and training, etc. This question is strictly about the user guides for the application.
2) I did read the post Is User Guide really necessary, but I felt it talked more about guides vs. no guides, making the assumption that the guide is good. I felt my question was different, more about trade-offs.