Whether you’re completing recurring tasks or creating a new program, process documentation can help you formalize your business efforts. In fact, creating documentation helps improve coordination, structure, and consistency throughout your organization.
This post collects best practices for process documentation. Here, you’ll learn:
What is process documentation?
Process documentation involves creating internal guides that outline the steps required to complete a task from start to finish. These materials can be used to guide new hires or transfer functions when an employee resigns. Process documentation can also reflect the complexity of a certain role.
Process documentation can be a step-by-step tutorial on a new software tool or an onboarding document for a new hire. This practice allows you to be proactive in designing internal systems and processes that save time, capital and valuable energy.
Why process documentation matters
If you lack structure and detail for core organizational processes, your business is at higher risk of inefficiencies. Process documentation provides an additional layer of security for your organization.
Lack of documentation can lead to the following organizational challenges.
lack of information retention
If only one person has extensive knowledge about a process, there is a risk of losing that knowledge when they leave the organization. Process documentation helps outline the information that this person has and allows you to store it in a way that others can use it.
Without a roadmap, there is a high chance that time will be wasted on unnecessary or repetitive tasks. Process documentation can help you outline and visualize these redundancies so that you can build a better solution.
The bottleneck can occur at any stage of the process. It is important to find out where and why the bottlenecks come from. Identifying these delays and bottlenecks will be helpful in creating greater efficiency.
Lower productivity means that more time and energy is wasted on the execution of processes in your organization. Team members have less availability to take on new projects. This disorganization can result in loss of revenue, or even turnover, in your business.
Process Documentation Benefits
Process documentation is critical to the overall function and flow of systems within your organization. The following are other general advantages of process documentation.
It builds resilience against change.
Process documentation allows your organization maintain a steady pace And momentum, despite the moving pieces. By breaking everything down (as much as possible) the individual components of the process can be moved or changed fairly easily.
This can be especially helpful when there is a reorganization or employee change in your organization. When one person leaves your team, their knowledge may live on. If a new partner joins, the documentation will help them ramp up quickly.
You will identify dispensable processes and steps.
When diving into your organizational processes, you will determine whether a process is bringing appropriate value to your organization. You will be able to identify which steps of your processes are necessary and effective.
Are there any steps that can be changed or eliminated without sacrificing efficacy? This exercise will create clarity for your team.
It collects and organizes knowledge.
A process document contains collective knowledge on a given approach to a topic. By making these documents easily accessible to team members, you allow for the development and flow of information throughout the organization.
It allows for self-evaluation and accounts for variables.
Process documentation allows team members to reflect on their individual contributions. They can precisely see their effect on the outcome of a given process.
Documentation is also helpful in identifying where adjustments need to be made to refine the process for better results.
This ensures compliance.
Your team should incorporate relevant process documents into the onboarding and training process. You can then make sure that new and old team members have all the information they need to complete a task.
By specifying parameters, you can ensure that security, legal, or other compliance is achieved.
It minimizes mistakes.
Mistakes are a natural part of life. However, you’ll want to avoid missteps in your business whenever possible. Step-by-step instructions for completing a task can help you minimize these mistakes.
creating process documentation
Now that you’ve seen how important process documentation is to your organization, let’s explore how you can apply it to your businesses.
how to write process documentation
- Identify your purpose.
- Determine your audience.
- Identify the pattern.
- Define work area.
- Identify necessary equipment and resources.
- Set the sequence.
- Determine responsible parties.
- Identify boundaries.
- Explain contingencies and exceptions.
- Review and test.
1. Identify your purpose.
Before you start writing, have a brainstorming session. During this time, you should determine what your final document should accomplish. Are you creating a training guide? Are you setting a process for senior leadership?
You will want to establish a clear name for the process you are documenting and a clear objective for what you are trying to accomplish.
2. Determine your audience.
Next, identify your audience and why you need to explain this process to them. For example, is it for the sales team or new hires? The audience will determine the information you include.
3. Identify the format.
You will want to decide what is essential for you to include in your document. And that goes beyond text. Will you need visuals? Perhaps your document would benefit from a graph, table, or flow chart. Perhaps a PDF or webpage is not the best format. Some procedures are best explained on video.
Here, you will determine which format or visual best communicates the information needed.
4. Define scope.
Your scope will establish what is and is not included in your document. This can help you have a narrow focus on the specific task that is being documented. Working within a certain framework will help your team avoid information overload.
5. Identify necessary equipment and resources.
Next, determine what you need to accomplish the task. This includes the relevant software, tools and capital required for each step of the process. These resources are sometimes called inputs.
6. Set the sequence.
When possible, outline the sequential steps required to repeat a process. It plays a huge role in increasing efficiency and determining the overall success of any task.
However, not every task has a clear sequential order. Sometimes you will need to evaluate different scenarios and possible outcomes to determine the order of operation of your process. In this case, create separate sequences for each scenario.
7. Determine the responsible parties.
The next step is to think about the role of each stakeholder. This part of your document should be as detailed as possible. Include timeline expectations for each person and how these timelines support your overall timeline goals.
8. Identify boundaries.
Your document should set out any boundaries that shape your process. This includes process timelines, due dates, budgetary limits, key performance indicators, etc.
If you’re considering changing your process, setting firm boundaries will help you understand any limits. You will be able to identify what you can change and what should remain constant.
In the staffing process document below, the boundaries related to human resources are clearly defined. The document also outlines where HR’s involvement ends.
9. Explain exceptions and contingencies.
Be aware of exceptions that may arise and account for them in your process documentation. The same goes for contingencies. You should outline when team members will need to deviate from the specified sequence of steps.
10. Review and Testing.
Once you have considered all these factors and documented your process, you are going to review your work. Edit your document. Then, test your instructions by completing the task as outlined. If all goes well, you should get the desired results of your work.
remember: If your process involves multiple stakeholders, it may end up as a project with layers of feedback. Each perspective gives you a great opportunity to optimize improvements in your processes.
Tips for Process Documentation
Before your team starts writing, here are some pointers that can help you maximize your effort.
1. Keep it brief.
You have the option of being as verbose or short-handed as you want. We recommend being as brief as possible. Say just enough to get the idea across, without repetition or using filler words.
2. Include visuals (where applicable).
Visuals can make your document more attractive. For example, images or infographics may break up large chunks of text. Which can make your document easier to read.
In other cases, graphs or tables may be the most useful way to display information. For complex topics or visual processes, a video may work best.
Pro Tip: If you’re showing how one step leads to the next, consider a flow chart.
3. Give editing power to your team.
Give your stakeholders the ability to edit process documentation. This simple change to your document’s permission settings can save a lot of time and back-and-forth between your team. As processes change over time, you’ll likely have multiple members of your organization who can keep your content up to date.
4. Be flexible.
Remember: No One Correct way of document procedures. The only way to get process documentation wrong is to omit it completely.
The way documents are created may change over time. In fact, your document itself will go through several iterations. Have a flexible mindset for best results.
getting started with documentation
Now that you’ve explored the best practices for process documentation, you can start writing.
remember: Documenting the steps in your most frequently followed processes saves your team from needing to reinvent the wheel over and over again. Instead your team will have a strong baseline. instead, they can new wheel when needed.