Process Documentation: What, Why, and How?

Write It Down.

There are so many steps your team goes through to accomplish their work each day. But they know what they’re doing, and your organization’s systems and software ensure that everyone understands how to do their jobs. So why do more? 

Recording your processes may seem tedious and even unnecessary. As experienced business process management professionals, we can tell you that the effort you put into process documentation will save you ample time and money in the long run. Not only will it make your business workflow smoother, it will also improve employee buy-in and facilitate any future modifications to your staff or company goals.

In our work, we encounter a wide range of scenarios where process documentation has proven an invaluable asset:

  • You’re bidding on a big project. The potential client wants to be confident in your abilities. Effective documentation can demonstrate your professionalism and commitment, and win you the job!
  • You’re seeking to outsource one aspect of your business. Any company that is considering taking on the work will need straightforward procedural instructions to be sure that they have a strong jumping off point and organized directions
  • You’re considering selling your business. The potential buyer will be more inclined to make an offer if they can clearly see and understand your workflows.
  • You want to monitor the effectiveness of your current procedures, and determine where things can be “tightened up”. Getting it down on paper is the best way to create tag points and spot inefficiencies.
  • You’ve lost an employee. If the person who knows the job best retires or leaves the company, they don’t take their knowledge with them. You can make a seamless transition within your team.
  • You’re onboarding a new employee. Of course, you want them to be up to speed as quickly as possible!

Depending on the complexity of your business, this practice of defining and documenting the way you work can be daunting, and is often put off until a more convenient time. (That never comes.) But it is a critical step in improving your organization’s efficiencies. It’s a tool that professional process management consultants always utilize when we optimize our clients’ operations and procedures.

Process Documentation, Explained

What Is It?

Process documentation is a detailed, visual description of your company’s repeatable tasks. It delineates the steps each employee takes to execute a process or task. It records everything from ideation to completion, and clearly lays out who needs to do what when. 

Depending on your procedures, goals, staff, and stakeholder demands, you may take awhile to work out the kinks in your various processes. But once you have them running smoothly, it’s important to create a definitive plan. With a series of steps to reference, your employees can work more efficiently. Write down your best practices so that you can remember and consistently use them.

Why Do You Need It?

Why is it so important to keep track of your processes?

Following a clear plan means that no steps will be overlooked, more regularly garnering you the results you anticipate.

Key elements of your business are affected by documentation:

  • Workflow (expectations, actions, inputs, and outcomes)
  • Company policy (so everyone is on the same page, on record)
  • Knowledge management (sharing and retaining your company’s valuable and/or proprietary information)
  • Continuous improvement (make sure you’re always operating effectively)
  • Business Transformation (your company and your goals are fluid –make sure transitions are easy.)

When Should You Do It?

You’re growing quickly, or not quickly enough.

If you’re planning to do an overhaul of your business processes, you need to know where to start. As-is documentation is the jumping off point. Do a thorough inventory of your existing documentation (training manuals, white papers, current processes), and identify any gaps or outdated materials. Identify pain points: is this department stagnant? Are you having trouble keeping up with sales?

Once you evaluate where you are, you can determine where you need to go. Writing all of this all down and looking at it holistically is the easiest way to determine your company’s current health and future direction.

Do it often.

You should also periodically review and update your documentation. The process manager is the critical role, here. It’s good to have a regular checkup of all of your workflow processes, and an annual read-through of your documentation is a great way to keep it contemporary and accurate. You can align this with your continuous improvement schedule.

Who Makes it Happen? Who Needs it?

Process documentation is an outline that everyone in your organization can use. Human Resources teams can turn to it for training of new employees or to help existing staff brush up on their operations. Management can reference the information when securing clients or contracts. It’s also essential in analyzing employee efficiency.

Every documentation action will have two key people at the helm: the process owner (usually a department head or team lead), and the process manager, who keeps track of the information and updates it when necessary. Sometimes, these duties apply to one role in the company. It’s also important to have someone who can write the processes down using clear, standardized technical language. Sometimes, this job is outsourced to a professional technical writer.

Additionally, getting input from the rest of your employees who implement any given task is an excellent way to ensure they are invested in the job. It’s critical that the people who are actually doing the work have a thorough understanding of the process. They will also have particular insight into elements of the process that work well (or don’t). If they know that they’ve had a hand in making their own jobs more efficient, any changes you make will be better received.

How Do You Start? 

Chronicling your workflow is not an overwhelming task. It’s just a matter of formally recognizing the actions you’re taking anyway.  Start with an outline, and fill in the details. It will take some time, especially when you consider how many steps it takes to accomplish each operation, but you’ll find it’s a logical and intuitive progression once you get started.

If this is the first time you’re documenting your organization’s activities, start “big”. Record the most impactful and obvious jobs first. It will be easier to track the stages of these, and the information will be valuable to a larger portion of your staff.  You can work through the minutiae over time.

Remember to keep your audience in mind. Make sure your wording and format will be easily understood by the employees and contractors who will actually be using it.

Once you have an understanding of process documentation, and how it can influence your company’s procedures and efficiencies, it’s obvious why it’s such a strong asset.

The good news is that process documentation can be systematically and painlessly done by following a very straightforward plan. That’s where we come in.

Novatone has designed an easy-to-follow 10 step plan for efficient process documentation. Find it, here.

It’s important to get expert advice when you’re looking at your company processes. There are many steps involved that can be easily overlooked by the untrained eye. Novatone professionals have a comprehensive understanding of each stage of process evaluation, documentation, and management. Turn to us for an effective, tailored solution for improving your business’ productivity. We’re ready to help! Contact us.