Processes, processes, processes.
They’re the lifeblood of every successful and growing organization. But, robust processes don’t spring up overnight. Rather, they’re a result of deliberate process documentation.
There’s a wrong way and a right way to do process documentation. Do it the right way and you set yourself up for success. Do it the wrong way and you inadvertently hold yourself back.
In this guide, you’ll learn what process documentation is, its benefits, and the steps you should take to implement process documentation the right way.
Let’s jump in.
What is process documentation?
Process documentation is the practice of creating a detailed record of how a particular process works within an organization. It involves the documentation of every step of a process, including the inputs, outputs, procedures, and the individuals involved in each step.
The purpose of process documentation is to provide a clear and consistent understanding of how a process works, making it easier to manage, analyze, and improve over time.
Proper process documentation allows you to get rid of a lot of key person risks you’d otherwise experience. The impact of an important employee leaving or an owner being unable to work is drastically reduced.
This makes the company more resilient and more attractive to potential acquirers and investors. Beyond this, there are many other benefits associated with proper process documentation.
Benefits of process documentation
Consistency: The larger an organization grows and the more people that need to do something, the greater variability in the final product or service. Process documentation ensures that tasks are performed consistently, regardless of who is performing them. By documenting the steps involved in a process, all team members can follow the same procedure, reducing the risk of errors and inconsistencies.
Efficiency: One of the major benefits of process documentation is the ability to improve a process over time and spot waste within the process. When listing the steps used for a process, you can identify areas for improvement, making the process more efficient.
Unnecessary steps can be eliminated or streamlined, reducing the time and resources required to complete the task. This isn’t always an instant process. Oftentimes, the process will need to be used for some time and the practitioners will need to get used to it. After that, they’ll be able to put forth recommendations that make the process more effective. That’s why regular reviews are important.
Training: Trying to remember everything a new hire will need to learn or teaching them on the fly is asking for trouble. Instead, take advantage of the process documentation created for tasks within your organization and use it as a training tool for new employees or team members. By providing a clear and concise guide for completing a task, new employees can quickly get up to speed and start contributing to the team.
Risk Management: Process documentation can help identify and mitigate risks. By identifying potential risks, such as errors or safety hazards, steps can be taken to reduce or eliminate those risks, ensuring that the process is completed safely and without incident.
Another way that it reduces risk is by preventing staff from having to create certain sensitive documents from scratch. You can determine the standardized clauses required and then use a document automation platform like DoxFlowy to make it easy to collect the data and make changes as needed.
Quality Control: Ensure quality standards are met and even exceeded with process documentation. Incorporate quality control measures into key processes. This ensures the final product or service meets the standards you’ve set.
Scalability: Another important benefit of process documentation is that it can help a business grow the size and effectiveness (scale) of its operations in a short amount of time. Use processes for hiring, onboarding, and executing tasks together to cut down the learning curve of new employees and make things more efficient overall. Document the steps in the process so they can be replicated in other areas of the business. This allows your brand to grow and expand.
Knowledge Transfer: Keep institutional knowledge within the organization and mitigate key person risk. Document the required steps, share them throughout the organization, and ensure that information isn’t lost when important employees leave.
Communication: By providing a clear and concise guide for completing a task, it’s easier to get started and become proficient. If there’s any issue or an area that needs to be clarified, they can point to the exact step in the process where they experienced the challenge and easily ask for help.
Continuous Improvement: With clearly defined processes, you’re able to identify areas that may need improvement. This is something that should be done continuously and changes can be rolled out during regular review cycles. These changes made over time lead to increased efficiency and effectiveness.
Compliance: Another important benefit is increased compliance and, by extension, reduced risk. To a large extent, you can build the necessary tasks into your process to ensure you’re compliant with relevant regulatory requirements. By documenting the steps involved in a process, you can demonstrate that you’re following the required procedures, reducing the risk of fines or other penalties.
Steps to implement process documentation
After becoming aware of the wide range of benefits associated with process documentation, it’s tempting to jump in and start writing the necessary steps.
That’s not how it works. In fact, writing the procedure that’s meant to be carried out is one of the later steps in the process documentation workflow.
Typically, you’ll carry out the following steps:
Identify the process to be documented
First, identify the process that will go through process documentation. This could be any process within an organization, such as a production process, a customer service process, or an accounting process.
The key here is to identify and prioritize the processes that need to be documented. It’s important not to conflate one or more processes together.
For example, publishing a blog post involves multiple processes that would require their own documentation. One process is topic and keyword research and another is researching the content and the format. Another process includes writing the blog post and a different process handles editing the draft. After that, the final process for uploading and publishing can commence.
At first glance, it seems like a single process but it’s four or five separate ones.
Pull in relevant stakeholders
Processes, especially important ones, aren’t created in a bubble. For example, management shouldn’t create a process and hand it down. Likewise, line workers shouldn’t create a process and hand it up the management ladder.
Instead, the important players in the process, usually the person carrying it out and their manager, should work together to create the process documentation.
Multiple viewpoints may need consideration. The manager may be concerned with safety while the employee is concerned with speed. Those outcomes may have some conflict which will need to be worked out to get the best process documented.
Document the process steps
Once the process has been identified and the key stakeholders pulled in, the next step is to list out all the potential steps in the process.
This is more of a brainstorming session. If this is your first time creating process documentation, you may realize that what you think of as a single step is actually multiple steps that you can string together due to experience.
Once you’ve listed out all the potential steps, remove the ones that are redundant or introduce inefficiency.
Then, document each step of the process in detail. This may involve observing the process in action, interviewing employees, or reviewing existing documentation.
Identify inputs and outputs
For each step of the process, it is important to identify the inputs and outputs. Inputs include raw materials, data, or information. Outputs include finished products, reports, or data. This makes it clear to the people performing the process what they need and the form the final product takes.
Identify roles and responsibilities
It’s also important to identify the roles and responsibilities of the individuals involved in each step of the process. This ensures everyone knows what to do and can perform their job effectively.
What happens after you’ve documented a process
Of course, you’ll publish the process and roll it out to relevant people in the organization. More importantly, you’ll need to set up a regular review cadence. Process documentation isn’t something that you set and forget. Rather, it’s an ever-evolving document that evolves with the times.
Each process needs to be reviewed at different intervals. For example, processes for transporting goods across the country may not need to be reviewed as often as digital marketing or social media processes.
Reviews and optimizations should be carried out irrespective of the process. You should wait at least six months between documentation reviews unless you’re in a space that evolves quickly. At most, you should wait two years between documentation reviews. Any longer than that and you risk falling behind on compliance and effectiveness.
Process documentation is an important step to unlocking efficiency in an organization. It allows you to create a consistent and repeatable product irrespective of who’s taking on the task. It also has many other benefits such as removing key person risk to a large extent.
This guide has shown you how to implement process documentation the right way. Follow the steps outlined here to get started with process documentation and tweak it to the needs of your organization.
After documentation, remove the inefficiencies and start automating your processes as much as possible to take them to the next level.