Work Processes

How to get started on your documentation project.

Why Produce Documentation?

Training and procedure documentation is created for many reasons. Can you relate to any of the following?

  • One of my best employees just turned in their two weeks notice and I don’t know exactly what they do
  • My business is growing a little too fast – I feel like we’re losing control of efficiency and we need to get back to the basics of what makes us great
  • We need to scale our operations and I’m struggling with getting everyone to do the same things the same way
  • We have to be compliant with certain industry standards and documentation is a requirement
  • Employee turnover is killing us – training takes too long and I worry about the quality of the training
  • I need to open another location and realize that I need to write down what we do
  • We just installed new software and my people are struggling with how to use it even though we’ve had multiple training sessions
  • I keep getting asked the same questions all the time – I need to write the answers down to free up my time

Regardless of why you feel the need to create training documentation, the way you go about it is the same. Below are three essential steps required for successfully kicking off your documentation project.

1. Define the Process or Job Duty for which you are Writing the Documentation

Start by updating or creating your company organizational chart. Define each department individually regardless of how many employees make up that department.

Do not write a “John” or “Donna” manual!

Do not fall into the trap of writing documentation in a way that is person-centric. For example, if you have a key employee who is leaving, do not write a “John” or “Donna” manual. The problem with writing a manual for a person is that they typically wear multiple hats in your company. What you need to do is break the person’s activities into specific processes and duties. Just because someone wears multiple hats and participates in cross-departmental processes and duties does not mean that this is the best situation for another employee.

You may not know what each employee actually does.

You probably have a good idea of what any one employee generally does on a daily basis. However, time has a way of adding to and taking away from what you might assume is actually going on. The best way to identify specific processes an employee is involved in is to ask questions such as:

    • How do you typically communicate with your supervisor? Email, face to face meetings, etc.
    • What is the most time consuming thing that you do?
    • What are all the areas of the company that you receive originating work products from and how often?
    • What work products do you produce in return for these areas of the company and how often?
    • What are all the areas of the company that you produce originating work products for and how often?
    • What work products do these areas produce in return for you and how often?

Contact us for more questions to ask!

2. Cross-Check the Processes

Once you have identified the core processes you wish to document, you need to go back through and cross-check them for missing process pieces. For example, if you are documenting a payroll process, you may also need to document how employee times / time cards are reported. For example, the timing of the payroll process may be greatly affected by how times are verified, recorded and reported to Payroll.

No process exists in a bubble and you will often have to document processes which are outside of the core process you are focusing on. Think about the core process you are documenting like it is a hole in a window caused by a rock. The hole is surrounded by spider cracks going in all kinds of crazy directions. The spider cracks can be very important to take note of.

3. Shadow Your Worker

Never take your employee’s word for what they actually do. Tasks that we complete by muscle memory are extremely difficult to break down into smaller sub-tasks. Plan on getting an overview of each task but then plan extra time to see the tasks in action. Observe every step of the task in person so that nothing is missed.

Maintain indifference and you will win.

Don’t assume that a task is completed a certain way because that’s how you would do it. A critical component of documenting processes is to remove the filter that constantly asks if there is a better way. Ask questions, but only to understand what is happening in the process flow. During your initial observation and documentation there is no room for judgement – write down all task steps with complete indifference in regards to task or job performance. You may think a particular process step is asinine, only to later discover an incredibly compelling reason for the step.