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What is process documentation, and why do I need it?

How to boost companywide accountability and performance by updating your business process-documentation procedures

By the team at SlackSeptember 21st, 2021

In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic upended everything we thought we knew about work. And as we continue to move forward, it has become clear that flexibility and agility are more critical to modern businesses than ever before.

To manage different tasks, companies run on processes, or repeatable and easy-to-execute steps. Documenting process has always been a key part of project management, contributing heavily to company success. But as you create new processes for the post-pandemic world, now is an excellent time to reevaluate and improve your business process-documentation procedures.

What is process documentation?

A process guide is a step-by-step document that explains how to do something in your business. For example, it might explain exactly how to transition an aspect of your data from legacy servers to the cloud. It might take the form of a policy, a tutorial or a flow chart. It could live in your business plan, your company handbook, your new-hire training manual or your cloud-based standard operating procedures.

Process documentation is the act of capturing or documenting all of the steps in a particular task. Ideally, it should happen in real time. As employees perform a task, they document each step they take. Ongoing process documentation, followed by regular process review, helps staff and managers learn what works and what doesn’t, helping everyone adapt the process guides as the business evolves.

Speech bubble with gears and a wrench

Why do we document processes?

Process documentation is an important part of making sure certain tasks are done consistently and efficiently. Major advantages of process documentation include:

  • Improving processes. Are there unnecessary steps? Is someone involved who doesn’t need to be, or should someone else be looped in? How does the process fit into the overall business strategy? During process review, you can answer these and similar questions with the latest data in hand.
  • Reducing confusion. Process documentation helps remove ambiguity from your work. Who is supposed to do task X, Y or Z? What is the end goal? How should it be done? Referring to the latest process documentation ensures all employees are on the same page. It can also help new employees get up to speed more quickly.
  • Preservation. Maybe your CEO has an encyclopedic knowledge of all the major processes in your office, or a top performer has a knack for figuring out the best way to accomplish any new task. What happens when that person leaves the company? Process documentation enables a smoother transition.
  • Analysis. How can you know if a new method works better than the old if there isn’t a concrete record of how both processes are performed? Process documentation lets you complete apples-to-apples comparisons of different methodologies.

There are many different methods of documenting processes, from written documents to templates to automated software solutions. You can even integrate process documentation as part of a comprehensive approach to productivity and project management. Your methods may change over time as your company grows.

How to document a process

No matter which method you use, there are a few key steps to process documentation.

1. Identify the process

First, identify the process you are documenting. Give it a clear name and objective.

2. Place boundaries

Document the start and end points of the process. What triggers it to begin, and how do you know when it’s over? For example, the process might start when you realize your app’s home screen looks dated and end when you send the updated version to all customers.

3. List the expected result

What should happen at the end of the process? This might be something like, “The finished app rolls out to end users,” or “The software update pushes to all registered users without hiccups.”

4. Detail the inputs

Note what materials and equipment are necessary to complete the process. This could be as simple as your assembly line and robotic assistants, or as complex as your legacy servers, private cloud and multiple platforms.

5. Walk through the process

You can brainstorm how it might work, but it’s better to perform the entire process from beginning to end. For example, you might want to walk through the sales funnel to see if any elements were left out during the mock-up phase. Remember, if a button isn’t on the wireframe, engineering won’t build it!

6. Determine who is involved

List the people who play a role in completing the process. This typically encompasses only those who perform the task, but you can also note who the decision makers are for that process.

7. Utilize your process documentation system

Carefully copy all of your notes into your process documentation system. Review all the details to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Final thoughts

For many companies, process guides are static documents that soon become outdated and of little use. But ongoing process documentation gives you the real-time information you need to analyze and improve your processes over time.

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