Well-documented business processes empower organizations to create documentation that simplifies complex processes across business functions. Process documentation streamlines business processes, prevents knowledge loss when employees leave the organization, enables smooth knowledge transfer between employees and departments, and helps maintain consistency in processes. Proper documentation reduces the time and resources required to educate employees and empowers them to perform at optimum levels. Well-laid-out process documentation also makes it easy for businesses to scale up in the future.
Effective business documentation involves careful designing and structuring of the document that captures as much detail about the process as possible. A carefully structured document not only sheds light on the process and its steps but also provides a basis to understand necessary improvements to the process for optimal overall performance. Business process documentation describes the process by using words, models, and symbols to designate how the process should function in its current state (As-Is state) or its future state (To-Be state). Reviewing the business process documentation helps determine the best way for the process to flow in order to accelerate and optimize operations, and spot and resolve any bottlenecks.
From startups to well-established enterprises, process documentation is extremely important to gain visibility into current processes and make improvements for better performance. A well-laid-out process document helps eliminate chaos and provides a basis to handle things more efficiently and consistently. Policies, checklists, tutorials, forms, screenshots, links to other applications, and process maps are examples of process documentation.
How Insufficient Documentation Affects Productivity?
We live in the age of immediacy, where information needs to be available immediately to all employees. When knowledge is not properly preserved in an organization, it leads to a reduction in business productivity. The survey conducted by Panopto on Workplace Knowledge and Productivity, reveals how improper documentation affects business productivity –
1- Waiting for co-workers for knowledge – employees that participated in the survey revealed that on average 5 hours are spent every week waiting to get in touch with people that have the unique knowledge they need. During the wait time, work is delayed, suspended, or even canceled. For example: if you need advice on how to structure a client presentation from a coworker, you usually send out an email asking for necessary information. If the colleague is not available due to work assignments and fails to notice the email, then you’ll need to wait till the information is provided. Meanwhile, all your work is stalled for lack of information.
2- Searching for knowledge inefficiently – rather than waiting for information from a coworker, employees may forge ahead on their own to locate information. Sometimes, these methods might be inefficient, resulting in the gathering of wrong information. Roaming for online information or second-guessing their decisions, or grasping at the wrong straws are some of the inefficient ways of searching for knowledge. The survey revealed that employees spend 8 hours per week searching for information.
3- Duplicating efforts – the third source of inefficiency comes when an employee knowingly or unknowingly does work that someone else has already done or is doing currently. As per the survey, employees spend 6 hours per week duplicating other people’s work. Duplication might happen when a coworker who has already done the work isn’t immediately available to provide an answer or point to the right resources. Or simply because employees are not aware that their effort is duplicative.
Need for Business Process Documentation
Now that process documentation is clear, the next is to identify the need for process documentation. Why do we need to document business processes? Here are some compelling reasons why businesses must invest time, effort, and money in process documentation.
Allows process standardization –
standardizing business processes is the primary goal of process documentation. It helps eliminate process variations during execution, which mitigates the risk of unpredictable outcomes. Business documentation outlines the activities that are tried and tested to achieve the best possible process outcomes. Anyone who works on the project is expected to follow the guidelines and instructions.
Presents an opportunity for process improvement –
documenting a process lays out all the steps without anything to hide. From procedures to dependencies to outcomes- everything is clearly laid out by the process document. Clear documentation presents an excellent opportunity for the stakeholders to understand the process completely and find process gaps. Process owners can easily find improvement areas and make timely and sustainable changes to the process based on the findings of the process document.
Makes new employee training easier –
when a new member is onboarded to the team, training on the processes followed must be provided to the new joiner. When processes are not documented properly, there are chances that important details or tasks may be missed out. Business process documentation is an excellent solution for smooth member onboarding. Having a reference document helps new joiners to understand the company culture and sync with the company’s vision.
Helps establish a culture of accountability –
one of the top development needs of an organization is accountability. Proper documentation cultivates a sense of accountability and ownership among team members. Process documentation rules out the ambiguity among teams, and makes it clear who to reach out to when an unexpected incident occurs. Where there is a reference document within the team, the employees are more satisfied, responsible, and motivated.
Business Documentation Methods
There are 3 main roles in process documentation –
➤ process owner,
➤ documentation custodian,
➤ technical writer.
The process owner defines the mission, vision, goals, tactics, and KPIs of the process. Monitoring and reporting process performance is the main role of the process owner. The documentation custodian ensures that all the records are up-to-date and that all the documents are available for inspection at any time. The technical writer organizes material and writes process documents. He is also responsible for editing, standardizing, and making changes to the documents.
We have described below the best way to document a process.
1- Identify and name the process – the first step is to identify the process which is going to be documented. Determine the purpose of the process and provide a brief description of the process.
2- Define the scope of the process – provide a brief description of what is included in the process and what is not included in its scope.
3- Set the process boundaries – the start and end points of the process must be explained properly. What causes the process to start? How do you know when it is done? Process boundaries provide answers to these questions.
4- Identify the process inputs – the end product of the process must be clearly established in the document. What result the process will achieve once completed should also be established in the document.
5- Identify process inputs – all the resources required by each step of the process must be clearly defined in the document.
6- Brainstorm the process steps – gather all the steps from beginning to end. Documentation can begin with what triggers the process or with where the process ends. The brainstorming process must involve those who are directly responsible for process tasks or someone with extensive knowledge of the process.
7- Organize steps sequentially – the list of steps listed out during brainstorming must be arranged in a sequential manner to create a process workflow. It is a good idea to keep the number of steps to a minimum and create sub-tasks under the main task.
8- Describe all those involved and how – decide each individual that is associated with the process tasks. After assigning individuals to each task, the next step is to define their roles.
9- While describing the stakeholders – it would be better to mention their role rather than their name. The documentation must be in such a way that even someone with reasonable knowledge can read and understand the document.
10- Visualize the process – using visual documentation methods like flow charts or flow diagrams, the clarity and readability of the document can be greatly improved.
11- Make a note of the exceptions to process flow – every process will have certain exceptions or deviations in the workflow. The conditions under which these exceptions or deviations may occur must be clearly mentioned along with the steps to be taken to address these deviations.
12- Include control points and measurements – the stages or points in the process workflow that are potential risks that must be identified. Control points must be added at these junctures to aid the process owner when monitoring the process. Process measurements must be established to determine the effectiveness of the process and to help improve it.
13- Review and test the process – gather everyone involved and review the process flowchart that maps the process flow. A final review needs to be done to ensure that there are no missing steps or major deviations in the workflow.