Documenting processes is typically the last thing on anyone’s priority list, yet it is has the potential to save time, money, and frustration for new employees.
In any business or organization, there are processes that employees need to be aware of to ensure time efficiency and eliminate errors. This is why documenting processes, while tedious at first, is incredibly important.
As a project manager, I have seen both the benefits of documenting processes and the pitfalls of not documenting them, or documenting them poorly. Hence, I decided to come up with my own simple how-to guide.
I am approaching this from an IT perspective, but this same approach can work with other industries.
What is a process?
I really appreciated how one site defined it:
“Processes are all the related activities (parts) inside the system that work together to make it function. For a mass transit system, there’s a process for ticket sales, equipment maintenance process, vehicle and track repair process, a safety process and so on.
Additionally, processes are a smaller part of the larger system. It’s important that processes are effective at what they do so that the system can run efficiently.
Processes are the sequence of activities intended to produce a particular result. Processes span organizational boundaries, linking together people, information flows, and other resources to create and deliver value to your customers.
A system is the methodical way that you provide specific goods or services to customers. Your system is the “what.” As in, what value do you provide the customer?
Likewise, your processes are the “how.” How do all the activities inside your company work together to provide that value?
Your systems and processes are the essential building blocks of your company. Every facet of your business–on the shop floor, in the warehouse, or in the office–is part of a system that can be managed or improved by applying correct principles.”
Documenting them is merely putting them on paper (physical or digital) for the purpose of preservation and sharing. The amount of steps can range from something as simple as 3 steps (like creating an incident in a ticketing system) to 30 or more steps (like submitting and tracking multiple requests for a large project).
Ideally, you will not want to go above 10 steps in a process in order to keep things simple and your employees motivated to complete the process (depending on the complexity and details of said process). If there are more than 10 steps in a process, there are two things you can do about it:
Assess if this process can be simplified, and possibly eliminate steps.
Examine whether the process can be divided into two (or more) separate processes.
Steps to documenting your processes:
Okay, we have defined what a process is, and what the ideal amount of steps is, So now we are ready to address the question of how one goes about documenting it.
Everyone is going to have their own unique style, but I highly encourage coming up with a loose, flexible template for your organization, so that there is standardization, but it is also flexible enough that it is user friendly and helpful.
Identify the processes within your job duties: think about if you accepted a job offer you couldn’t pass up and had to train your replacement in 1-2 weeks. What processes would they have to know in order to fulfill your job duties sufficiently after you left? It is best to break things down from larger to smaller. For example, let’s say you support 4 separate areas, identify in each of those areas the main processes that if not completed, would cause that area to fall apart or not function.
Define your processes: In 3-5 sentences each, describe each of your processes and the purpose it is for. Write it in such a way that your future replacement can understand it without you having to explain it (because you won’t be there).
List the steps in each identified and defined process: Again, try to keep it under 10 steps (this is a loose guideline though. Just remember, complexity is the enemy of execution). Ask, what series of steps do they have to take in order to complete the process? Document that, and include all the details they need in order to complete each step (include the hyperlink if they need to access a web page, the location of a file if it’s a critical file for one of the steps, the department to send the email to, etc.).
Take SCREENSHOTS of the steps: This is a very important step. A picture tells a thousand words, and when combined with defined and descriptive steps of a process, it helps tremendously. Screenshots can be taken with various snipping tools (Microsoft Windows has it built into its OS). Become familiar with one of these tools, and then walk through each of the steps and ask yourself these questions: would having a screenshot (or screenshots) for this step significantly help with completing the step? Will it cut down on possible mistakes for new employees, having a picture to compare their step to?
Test your documented processes: You want to make sure that your steps are clear to others, not just you. After all, you are used to doing it all the time. So ask one of your coworkers to give it a “test run”, if possible (ideally someone who isn’t as familiar with your processes). This isn’t always possible, considering on the privacy or security of your processes, but even having a coworker in your same group read it over can be helpful, and they might have some suggestions that you didn’t think of. Try to read it through the lens of someone who is not only trying to learn your processes, but is also getting familiar with your department or company as a whole. Which brings up another point, make sure to use titles in your steps, along with names. People leave, so you want your document to still be relevant when that happens.
Save final draft to a shared location: One of my supervisors has this saying, “If I get hit by a bus, everything you need is on the shared drive”. Albeit morbid, her point is valid. One never knows what will happen in life, whether having to drop everything for an emergency or suddenly winning the lottery and deciding to leave as a result. Documented processes are no help to anybody if no one can access them.
Keep your processes updated: Outdated processes are also not the most helpful either, so make sure to document changes and update your document to reflect additions, removals, or modifications of steps.
And there you have it! You have successfully documented your processes. Your company and future employees will thank you, even if they never meet you. This is also something you can add to your resume, showing that you are diligent, proactive, and invested when it comes to your job duties. It shows that you care about the future of the companies that you work at, and it sets you apart as being that employee that goes the extra mile.
Now, go forth and document your processes! Good Luck!