Your Complete Guide To Process Documentation, And Why It’s so Important
Process Documentation is vitally important for the efficient running of any business - some would say it’s the lifeline of their operations - but what is it and why is it so important?
What Is Process Documentation
Process Documentation could be described as a comprehensive description of how to carry out a business process. This includes all types of documents required to complete a business process or task from start to finish. Documents might include checklists, policies, forms, tutorials, process maps, screenshots, and links to other applications.
What Is the Purpose of Process Documentation?
The purpose of process documentation is to assist employees at all levels - and this includes decision-makers and stakeholders – to quickly comprehend company processes. Process documentation should describe how employees perform the process, not what the actual process is. Documentation is more concerned about the ‘how’ of implementation rather than the ‘what’ of process impact.
Essentially, any business is a group of interconnected processes, and breakdowns can and will occur if these processes have not been recorded. Most organizations have repeatable processes that form the basis of their successful operation, which is why process documentation is a crucial reference guide for both employees and managers.
Another purpose of process documentation is that staff can learn from both their successes and their mistakes, so that the strategy can be adjusted to improve the procedure.
So, the goal or aim of process documentation is to keep an accurate record of all ongoing processes in order to encourage future improvements. The documentation is to be a form of training tool, where steps taken can be analyzed, and suggestions made for improvements and alterations.
The Benefits of Process Documentation
Today, we’re living in a fast-paced technologically-savvy world, where productivity is the norm. All businesses strive to get ahead by working efficiently, quickly, and with reduced costs, at the same time using minimum resources while maintaining high quality.
Process documentation has become a major factor in the success of organizations, simply because it ensures key company information is retained if an employee leaves and it preserves process knowledge that’s vital to the success of a business.
There are numerous benefits to managing business processes, and these include –
- Creating standardization
- Decreasing resources associated with tasks
- Saving time and money
- Eliminating flaws
- Improving employee onboarding
- Improving overall quality
- Increasing both employee and customer satisfaction
- Discovering other ways to further improve processes
- Creating workplace efficiencies
- Analytically improving workflows
Process Documentation offers context for individual projects. It’s the ongoing documentation of a specific process while a task or project is being carried out – it’s not the final report. Every step of the process is analyzed, providing context to improve the process.
The only real way any organization can know whether their business processes are appropriate is to document each and every step of each and every process, analyze them, get feedback, then apply changes to improve the process. Only then can a business continue to grow and be assured that it’s running at full capacity.
Why Every Business Should Employ Process Documentation
Documenting business processes is the quickest and most effective way of creating new processes or refining existing processes. So what are the benefits to an organization of documenting their processes?
No. 1: Retaining Key Business Knowledge
Process documentation gives a business the ability to preserve vital knowledge and information. When each and every step of a process is noted, everyone has access to the information on how a certain process is carried out. More importantly, when a high profile employee leaves your organization, they don’t take this knowledge with them.
No. 2: Faster Onboarding for New Hires
What better way to train new employees than with process documentation? It’s a great syllabus for any new employees, allowing them to quickly learn their new role. It will help your new employee understand how they fit into your overall organization, and by accelerating the learning curve your new employee will have all the resources they require to familiarise themselves with the workflow. Process documentation is also a great timesaver for managers or departmental heads who would otherwise be required to explain these detailed processes to new employees.
No. 3: Streamline Processes
Many employees, and even managers, rely on their memory to perform tasks, simply because most businesses use repeatable business processes. This can be a recipe for disaster, because you’re not likely to improve the process if you’re not aware of the following –
- The actual business processes that are taking place,
- The purpose of each step taken in a process,
- The role of your co-workers in a process cycle, and
- How specific processes impact the bottom line of your business.
With process documentation, anyone with access can clearly see all processes, so businesses can determine new tactics and strategies to create improved workplace efficiencies.
No. 4: Continuous Improvements
With process documentation in place, management teams are easily able to
analyze and compare both old and new versions of a process to calculate important metrics like efficiency and cost-reduction. Management can quickly determine whether a new approach should be tried, or if their efforts are reaping the results they require. New learned approaches can be applied to other processes, ultimately saving time and money.
No. 5: More Operational Clarity
With process documentation, there’s no ambiguity of responsibility or role in the workplace. Process documentation will clearly define –
- Tasks necessary to complete a process,
- The person assigned to complete the task,
- How the tasks should be performed, and
- Individual roles and responsibilities.
This type of documentation can remove any workplace confusion. The process document can be accessed at any time, because the system works as a central source of information and knowledge for the entire organization, thus providing transparency and reducing workplace tension.
Who is Involved In Process Documentation?
There are three parties involved in business process documentation –
- The project team members
- The key stakeholders
- External parties
No. 1: Project Team Members
Process Documentation is the responsibility of the project team. Because process documentation should occur whilst a process is being performed, it ensures that the project team is fully aware of their efforts and are continually learning. It also ensures that everything is recorded correctly and that no steps in a process go unnoticed. Some businesses, however, employ a specialist for the sole purpose of documenting processes. This means that your project team is not required to continuously interrupt their work flow to document each step - this will be taken care of by the specialist.
No. 2: Key Stakeholders
A stakeholder is any person, organization, social group etc. who has a direct or indirect interest in the company. If a stakeholder is involved in a certain project, that stakeholder should also be involved in process documentation. Not only does it help them determine the steps to take in a process, it encourages them to make suggestions or give appropriate feedback.
No. 3: External Parties
In some cases, outsiders will be involved in your process documentation. Outsiders provide a new perspective and typically offer a fair and unbiased judgement of business practices. Sometimes it takes observing something from a distance to provide clarity and to discover more efficient ways of doing something.
How Do I Start Documenting Processes?
The complexity of your process documentation will depend entirely on the scale of the process being documented. For a short process, it will be quite easy to document the process because the number of people and the number of steps involved are smaller. With a broad scope process, however, process documentation can be quite complex because it will probably involve internal and external stakeholders from different specialties and departments.
You need to create a roadmap or provide guidelines to ensure that, regardless of the process scope and size, the process documentation is carried out effectively.
Below we have listed some key steps that should be incorporated by your team to assist in preparing for process documentation for your business.
Define the Goals
To start with, the goal of the process document must be determined. This means you need to answer questions like the processes to be covered, the scope of the project, and what changes, if any, are to be made.
Make a list of the resources required to carry out each process step. In addition, describe the outputs produced by the process - what will be achieved once a process is completed?
Determine Your Audience
You’ll be wasting your time if you don’t understand who your audience is and what their expectations might be from process documentation. Once you understand who your audience is, then you can go ahead and create documents that meet their specific requirements.
List Your Team Members
Describe members of your team who will be involved in a process. To establish clarity, clearly describe their roles and responsibilities.
Gather Key Information
The best way to collect information about the steps required by team members to complete a process is through a brainstorming session. Don’t forget to include the expertise or views of outsiders and stakeholders.
Put It All Together
Once you’re sure you’ve noted all the steps required to perform a process from beginning to end, these steps should be organized in a sequential list format. It’s essential that the steps involved are arranged in the actual manner in which the process is completed. For this process to be useful to all concerned, ensure that the steps are written down in a clear, concise way. Use headings, bullet points, charts, and tables to make the process documents easy to understand. Make a flow chart if necessary to visually represent the steps involved in the process.
Share and Seek Feedback
Share your process documentation with stakeholders and fellow colleagues and ask them to complete their own process. This is a really important step in the documentation process because, by giving outsiders access to the document, it will quickly open up potential loopholes or problems that need rectifying. By visually representing the process, team members will see the process in a new light and quickly be aware when something is missing.
Optimize and Improve
It’s now time for the steps to be optimized and for any improvements as suggested by fellow team members, stakeholders and other colleagues to be added. Continue until your process is fully optimized and efficient. The idea is to keep adding alterations to the document any time you discover a new tactic or strategy that could improve your process.
Publish Your Documentation
Once you feel that the documentation is complete, make it available to employees and stakeholders of the company with the request that they provide feedback or proffer suggestions that might improve the process.
Keep the following best practices in mind while both creating and distributing your process documentation –
- Ensure that your process document is stored in a centralized location. A true knowledge base software like AllAnswered is the perfect platform to capture such documents.
- Everyone in the organization must have easy access to the document and they can comment on the document to provide feedback. Feedback is vitally important.
- Use a template to bring more consistency and standardization to all your process documents.
- Make sure your document is updated on a regular basis, with appropriate changes made to the processes.
- Regularly review and respond to all feedback received, and evaluate areas for improvements.
- The document should be concise and short. Long documents will take longer to create, review and digest by others.
- Flowcharts are invaluable when trying to explain the steps required in any process. And, to make it as easy as possible to understand, try adding graphs, screenshots, tables, charts, and other graphics.
- Your knowledge management software should support version control and only the latest version is made available to the team.
Process documentation is the act of gathering, validating, and organizing your business processes. While it may seem complex to begin with, it’s really critical to the success of your operation that you start utilizing a system like this. Process documentation becomes the blueprint of your business operations.