Process documentation tips for every business owner
In part 1, we talked about the desirable ways process documentation can affect your business. Now in part 2, we’ll get down to the nitty-gritty details of how to actually get this done. We all know how busy you are and that you really didn’t need one more task added to your plate, so our goal is to help you see how you can feasibly find the time to do it.
Here are some practical steps we’ve successfully followed to document our processes at Propel.
- Do it as you train. If you find yourself training a new employee on how you do things, take the opportunity of articulating your instructions verbally and write them down. Better yet, have the new employee document what you’ve taught them and review it.
- Identify the top 5 tasks you need to document. These might be 5 things you really don’t want to manage anymore and would like to pass off, or maybe they’re 5 processes you want to streamline. Make a list and work on 1-2 a week.
- Set aside a planning day. If adding employees is in the near future for you, it will be well worth your while to take a “business retreat” and spend a half or even a whole day documenting the processes your new employees will be responsible for.
- Make it a habit. Every time you do something, write it down. It can be as simple or detailed as you want, but as long as the document gives clear and complete instructions about a process, that’s what matters.
As for what you include in a process document, here are a few pointers:
- Each step. Don’t leave anything out! Even if it’s a small detail that might seem intuitive to you, someone following your instructions about the task for the first time won’t know about it.
- Clear and concise instructions. Describe the procedure accurately, but leave out unnecessary details. Keep the document to a bare-bones outline of just the steps. The goal is to make it easy to follow, and lengthy explanations can simply be confusing.
- Organized content. We’ve found the best way to document a process is to do it while we walk through it ourselves. That way, nothing is left out and everything is recorded in sequential order. So, we suggest walking through your own instructions after writing them out to make sure they make sense and you haven’t left anything out.
- An outline. Writing this kind of document is best done in outline form. Not every sentence has to be its own point, but the big steps in a process should be obvious. Put it in a bulleted list so it’s easy to follow.
The best advice we have about process documentation is to write your processes in a way that someone who doesn’t know how to do the task you’re describing could read your document and be able to follow it without any questions. That doesn’t mean writing as if the recipient is a child, but it does mean breaking every task down into the simplest steps.