What is Process Documentation and Why is it Important?

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Tanya A Mishra
on September 08, 2023 · · filed under Product Documentation Product Documentation Tutorials

Consider having a roadmap that guides you through every task, project, or operation within your organization. Sounds like a life-saved? Right. Well, this toolkit helps in more ways than one. From empowering your team to work seamlessly, to minimising errors, to boosting productivity. This is precisely what process documentation offers.

Effective process documentation is essential for business efficiency, consistency, and organizational resilience. However, many organizations struggle to create documentation that provides real value and unlocks the potential they behold.

In this blog, we will explore best practices and the most efficient way for developing comprehensive, useful process documentation that employees can understand and follow with ease. We will cover:

  • What is process documentation and why is it important?

  • Who to involve in the process documentation process

  • Determining the right level of detail and structure

  • When to document processes for best accuracy

  • How process documentation improves efficiency and quality

  • Common pitfalls to avoid

  • Updating and maintaining documentation

  • Tools and templates to streamline creation

With the right way and by following a few simple easy steps, your organization can create process documentation that reduces risks, preserves institutional knowledge, and promotes operational excellence. This blog will provide actionable guidelines for getting your process documentation right.

For a starting point, let us dive in to best practices for developing process documentation that becomes a trusted, valued resource across your organization.

What is process documentation and why is it important?

Process documentation refers to a knowledge base, which has written instructions with detailed descriptions that capture how a process or procedure for different tasks is carried out within an organization. Being a part of business process management, it provides step-by-step details about how employees complete tasks or activities to achieve the desired results. Effective process documentation is important for several reasons:

  • It ensures consistency - With detailed documentation, employees can reliably follow the same process every time. This minimizes variation and mistakes.

  • It preserves institutional knowledge - If a key employee leaves, process documentation ensures their knowledge isn't lost. New hires can refer to documents for training during the hiring process.

  • It improves efficiency - Well documented processes reduce uncertainty and allow employees to complete tasks faster.

  • It facilitates auditing- Process documentation makes it easy to audit processes for compliance and quality control.

  • It streamlines training - Training new employees is faster when you have process documentation to reference.

The key to beneficial process documentation is keeping it comprehensive, up to date, and easy to follow. Documents should specify roles, inputs, steps, decision points, and expected outputs. Visual aids like flowcharts and screenshots can clarify the entire process to provide the necessary information.

What are the key elements to include in process documentation?

Creating comprehensive, useful process documentation requires strategic planning and execution. Here are some best practices to follow:

  • Involve process owners - Work with people who actively participate in the process daily and can be easily involved in brainstorming session. They will know the ins and outs to document accurately.

  • Keep it simple - Avoid excessive wordiness and complexity. Use clear, concise language and structure. Include images and diagrams to simplify concepts.

  • Organize logically - Structure documents in a logical flow that mirrors the real process. Group related steps together. Number sections and steps.

  • Specify critical details - Identify key inputs, decision points, exceptions, roles and responsibilities. Don't leave out important specifics.

  • Use templates - Leverage process documentation templates to ensure consistency. Populate with your process-specific details.

  • Standardize format - Maintain the same structure, fonts, tone, keywords across documents organization-wide. This aids comprehension.

  • Make it readable - Chunk text into short paragraphs. Use white space, bullets, and headers to ease readability. Stick to common terminology.

  • Show interactions - Illustrate interactions between systems, departments, and users with process maps and flowcharts.

  • Review often - Set reminders to review documentation periodically for accuracy. Processes change over time.

  • Store centrally - Keep documents in a central repository that employees can access anytime. Share across departments.

  • Automate updates - When possible, integrate process documentation with systems that can auto-update any changes or new versions.

Following best practices for process documentation takes time upfront but pays off through heightened efficiency, quality, and consistency across the organization.

What are some best practices for creating effective process documentation?

Creating effective process documentation for running day-to-day operations smoothly requires strategic planning and execution. Here are some additional best practices:

  • Focus on the audience - The first step or the first thing here is to understand who will use the documents and what details they need to know. Explain steps in the best way possible as per the level of user.

  • Highlight risks - Call out any major risks, failures, exceptions or errors that could occur and how to handle them with a good idea. This helps mitigate risks.

  • Define terms - Include a glossary defining acronyms, systems, tools, and specialized vocabulary so anyone can understand the content.

  • Add visual elements - Charts, mockups, photos, and diagrams help convey complex information at a glance.

  • Note policies and standards - Reference any organizational policies, regulations, or standards that affect the process steps. This provides context.

  • Customize as needed - Recognize processes might vary across locations or departments. For example, create slightly customized versions when helpful.

  • Include forms/templates - Provide copies of blank forms, reports, or templates used in the process for easy reference.

  • Assign ownership - Document who authored the process and owns maintaining the accuracy of the documentation.

  • Link related documents - Cross reference other processes or work instructions that connect to provide full picture.

  • Highlight changes - Call attention to recent document updates or process changes so users take notice.

  • Make it discoverable - Ensure documentation is easy to find by those who need it. Promote awareness of resources.

  • Consider version control - Have a system to track document versions and changes over time for accuracy.

By keeping these additional best practices in mind, organizations can optimize process documentation for maximum utility and value across the enterprise.

Documentation Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

Documentation is an easy process that involves multiple steps. Here are all the exact steps to creating the perfect documentation:

Step 1: Define Purpose and Audience

To begin with, you need to define the purpose as well as the readers of the documentation. You need to consider if it is a user manual, technical reference, or project report as well as will need to give a thought about background, knowledge level, and expectations of readers before penning your content.

Step 2: Choose Format

You will then need to choose the right format of documentation for your readers and purpose. It can be either in a written format if the documentation's purpose is to provide detailed technical information. On the other hand, you could go with a video tutorial that can help viewers learn certain processes with ease.

Step 3: Gather Information

In this step, you will need to start sourcing all the necessary information that will make documentation helpful and insightful for the audience. Easiest way to do so is gathering all information in one place. This will help you prepare your documentation with ease and show your best work.

Step 4: Plan and Write

Create a proper outline of the documentation. Use easy-to-understand language while avoiding jargon. provide meanings of all technical words that you use in your documentation for easy understanding to readers.

Step 5: Use Visual Aids, Examples

You should mix your text with visual representation to provide a better presentation of the documentation to the end user. These visuals, which could be diagrams or charts, or illustrations for that matter, could improve the understanding of the audience.

Step 6: Review and Edit

Do a careful survey of your documentation for sentence structure, spelling, and accentuation mistakes. Check for consistency in designing, phrasing, and composing style.

Step 7: Test and Collect Feedback (if applicable)

Test any procedures or instructions in your documentation to make sure they are accurate and complete. Share the documentation with a gathering of expected readers to accumulate input on clarity and convenience.

Step 8: Revise and Update

In view of criticism and any progressions in the topic, make suitable corrections to the documentation. Keep your documentation current and pertinent to address developing requirements.

Step 9: Publish and Distribute

Distribute the documentation in the picked design, whether it's a printed manual, PDF, page, or video stage.

Step 10: Provide Ongoing Support and Maintenance

Set up a procedure for offering users who encounter documentation-related issues or questions ongoing support. Consistently survey and update the documentation to reflect changes or enhancements.

Step 11: Seek Continuous Improvement

Gather criticism from clients and partners to distinguish regions for development. Over time, make use of data and feedback to make your documentation more useful and effective.

How detailed should process documentation be?

When creating process documentation, one important consideration is determining the appropriate level of detail to include. Too little detail and the documents will lack the information users need to execute processes properly. Too much detail can make the documentation tedious to create and read. Here are some tips for striking the right balance:

  • Identify the purpose - Consider who will use the documentation and what questions they should be able to answer from reading it. This shapes the detail required. Onboarding new hires may require more specifics than experienced employees.

  • Focus on critical steps - Include granular detail for steps that are complex, have exceptions, or are critical for quality and compliance. Glaze over repetitive or straightforward tasks.

  • Summarize supporting steps - For lengthy processes, call out supporting tasks but don't delve into step-by-step minutiae. Provide overview before diving into the procedure.

  • Omit obvious information - Leave out details that most readers would find intuitive or unnecessary. However, err on side of too much detail with complex processes.

  • Use supplemental materials - Move ancillary information like background context or technical specifications to appendices or separate documents.

  • Leverage visual aids - Diagrams, flowcharts, screenshots and models can simplify complex details so you can keep main task descriptions concise.

  • Standardize templates - Utilize standard templates for consistency across processes, but allow some flexibility in detail level based on process variability.

  • Enable customization - Build in ability to drill down into more detail through links, attachments or layered documents for those who want more information.

  • Pilot test - Have sample users provide feedback on level of detail. Add or remove detail according to input on what would be most helpful.

  • Update periodically - Review documentation regularly to modify detail as processes and user needs evolve.

Following these guidelines will help optimize process documentation with the right level of detail for the target audience.

When should processes be documented?

Determining the right time to document a business process is crucial. Trying to retroactively document processes that have been in place for years can be challenging and result in inaccurate representations. Here are some guidelines on optimal timing for process documentation:

  • Document as processes are designed - The best practice is to document processes in real time as they are created and tested, before full scale implementation. This ensures documentation stays valid.

  • Document for new processes - Whenever introducing new processes due to growth, mergers, acquisitions or other change, prioritize creating documentation in parallel during the design phase. Don't wait until after rollout.

  • Document when problems arise - Issues or bottlenecks often indicate lack of clear documentation. Use these opportunities to illuminate processes.

  • Document for new hires - Onboarding new employees for existing processes is a key driver for documentation. This promotes knowledge transfer.

  • Document changes and updates - When processes change due to technology, systems or policy updates, renew documentation right away to stay current. Don't let documentation languish out of date.

  • Set periodic review reminders - Establish regular reviews of documentation to detect when processes shift from the docs. Update accordingly. Annual reviews are recommended.

  • Document unwritten rules and tribal knowledge - Capture unofficial workarounds, shortcuts and tribal knowledge that haven't been standardized into official processes yet.

  • Document before employee turnover - Try to document critical processes before losing the employee responsible to avoid knowledge drain.

  • Interview employees - Have knowledgeable employees narrate steps for documentation, as they often highlight helpful nuances.

  • Document early in projects - For long, complex projects, document processes at the start for clarity on resource needs, hand-offs, risks.

Planning documentation proactively during process design and change enables accurately reflecting reality. Keeping documentation evergreen should be built into ongoing business practices.

Who should be involved in creating process documentation?

Developing comprehensive, useful process documentation requires input from multiple roles. Here are key stakeholders to involve:

  • Process owners - Directly engage managers of the process to document their expertise. They best understand intricacies and nuances.

  • Frontline employees - Include team members that regularly perform the work. They provide real-world perspective on how the process operates.

  • Cross-functional partners - Consult with other departments that hand-off or interact with the process to illuminate interconnections.

  • Subject matter experts - Technical specialists like IT professionals or engineers may need to clarify complex specifications or protocols involved.

  • New hires - Get input from recently onboarded employees on what more they would have wanted to know about the process through docs.

  • Leadership - Executives often request or fund documentation projects. Their goals for the outcome should inform the work.

  • External stakeholders - For processes involving customers, vendors or other outside parties, include their insights on interactions.

  • Quality assurance - These professionals can advise on risks, control points and compliance requirements to document.

  • Training managers - Those responsible for training new hires need documentation that supports their programs.

  • Project managers - For processes central to certain projects, project managers can clarify roles, resources and hand-offs.

  • Human resources - HR can explain talent requirements, job duties and qualifications in detail in descriptions.

  • Employees in other locations - Account for any differences in processes for global organizations or remote employees.

With input from this diverse group of stakeholders, process documentation benefits from thoroughly capturing both the technical "how" and the practical realities of bringing the process to life in the organization. This leads to increased quality and adoption.

How can process documentation help improve efficiency and quality?

Well-designed process documentation offers organizations many benefits that drive efficiency and quality gains. Here are some of the top benefits of process documentation:

  • Consistency - With all employees following the same documented procedures, variation decreases. This improves quality and service delivery.

  • Accountability - Documentation creates clarity on roles and responsibilities, which supports accountability for specific process steps and deliverables.

  • Onboarding efficiency - New hires get up to speed faster with clear, detailed documentation instead of informal training.

  • Risk reduction - Identifying process failure points, risks, and controls in docs allows organizations to proactively mitigate and monitor for those issues.

  • Compliance- Documentation ensures processes align with internal policies and external regulations. This facilitates audits.

  • Change management - During process changes, documentation helps train employees on modifications and new expectations.

  • Resource optimization - Mapping out processes helps identify redundant efforts to streamline or areas for automation to reduce manual labor.

  • Institutional memory - Documentation preserves process knowledge even when experienced employees leave, preventing reinvention or knowledge gaps.

  • Problem-solving - Complete documentation of systems, interactions and sequences helps troubleshoot issues and pain points.

  • Cross-functional alignment - Clarifying hand-offs between departments improves communication, collaboration and customer experience.

  • Training aid - Well-documented procedures form the curriculum for new employee onboarding and role-specific training programs.

  • Continuous improvement - Regularly updating documentation supports analyzing processes for incremental improvements over time.

  • Customer service - External customer-facing process documents help provide more transparent, timely, and consistent services.

Investing time in thoughtful process documentation pays dividends through enhanced efficiency, quality, and business performance over the long term.

What are some common pitfalls to avoid when creating process documentation?

Process documentation initiatives often fail to achieve the desired benefits due to some key missteps. Here are common pitfalls to be aware of:

  • Inaccurate or outdated details - This causes confusion and frustration when employees follow incorrect steps. Update docs promptly when processes change.

  • Overly complex language - Using a lot of jargon or technical terms without clear definitions hinders comprehension for many readers. Simplify language.

  • Lack of visual elements- Walls of dense text hamper readability and understanding. Incorporate ample visual aids like flowcharts and screenshots.

  • Disorganized structure- Documents that lack logical sequencing of steps or grouping of related tasks makes following procedures difficult.

  • Not noting exceptions- Failing to document alternative steps for contingencies like errors or edge cases leaves employees unprepared to handle them.

  • Excess length - Avoid exhaustive documents that bog down readers with too much granular detail. Prioritize critical steps.

  • Limited accessibility -Docs that sit in obscure shared folders rather than easily searchable databases lead to lower awareness and utilization.

  • Lack of version control - Without clear version numbering and change logs, readers don't know they have outdated documentation.

  • Narrow focus - Process steps don't exist in isolation. Not providing context through process maps or overview of interconnected systems hampers understanding.

  • Not soliciting user feedback - Drafting docs without input from those who will actually use them often results in missing key details or poor structure.

  • Manual updating - Processes evolve, so relying on periodic manual refreshes rather than integrating real-time data results in stale docs.

  • Lack of ownership - Without formally assigning maintenance responsibilities, accuracy and relevance tends to suffer over time.

Avoiding these missteps takes diligence, but results in streamlined, effective documentation that actually improves organizational performance. It is a critical investment in operational excellence.

How often should process documentation be reviewed and updated?

Process documentation that isn't regularly reviewed and updated loses its value over time as processes change. Here are some best practices for keeping documentation evergreen:

  • Set a recurring annual review for each document - Annual reviews are a good rule of thumb for most business processes that change moderately over time.

  • Build in reminders tied to system updates - When major enterprise systems are updated, prompt process owners to validate documentation.

  • Review after major projects or milestones - Following an ERP implementation or headquarters move, processes likely changed.

  • Assign documentation maintenance in role responsibilities - Making individuals accountable for review encourages compliance.

  • Establish a change log - Note any process changes or doc updates for easier and more transparent reviews.

  • Require sign-off for reviews - Requiring process owners or leadership to sign that reviews were completed provides verification.

  • Interview employees annually- Check in with teams annually to identify undocumented changes in how work really happens.

  • Survey users of documentation - Regular quick user surveys can reveal when docs are falling out of sync with reality.

  • Analyze process performance data - Where metrics indicate changes in process effectiveness, review documentation.

  • Stay abreast of internal and external change - Evolving regulations, systems, market demands prompt documentation reviews.

  • Convene focus groups - Bringing together process stakeholders helps surface various perspectives on needed updates.

  • Schedule updates tied to certain volume milestones - High-volume processes may require reviews more than annually.

  • Automate data inputs where possible - Automated flows of real-time data into docs keeps certain sections current.

  • Phase reviews across a year - Reviewing all documentation annually causes a scramble. Space out reviews across quarters.

Following leading practices for regular process documentation review and update is essential to maintaining the accuracy and value these foundational resources provide.

What tools and templates can help with developing process documentation?

Creating process documentation from scratch can be daunting. The good news is there are many tools and templates available to help streamline the process:

  • Microsoft Word templates - Word document templates provide consistent structure and prompts for key process details to document.

  • Microsoft Excel - Excel lets you map process flows using shapes and arrows to visualize document flows and decisions.

  • Microsoft Visio - This visual diagramming tool allows users to illustrate end-to-end process flows spanning multiple systems and steps.

  • Smartsheet - This collaborative work platform makes it easy for multiple authors to jointly develop process documents.

  • Google Docs - Docs enable real-time collaboration on documentation and allow embedding of diagrams.

  • Lucidchart or Draw.io - These web-based tools help anyone easily build process flow diagrams and maps.

  • Screencasting software - Tools like Snagit or Camtasia facilitate creating visual guides by recording screen actions.

  • MadCap Flare - This professional tool specializes in technical documentation with built-in templates.

  • MediaWiki or Confluence - Wiki platforms allow centralized access to documentation that any employee can edit or update.

  • Software documentation plugins - Plugins for tools like Jira, Trello, and Asana can auto-generate process docs from workflows.

  • Omnigraffle (Mac only) - This diagramming software is tailored for technical processes and workflow documentation.

  • Documentation style guides - Develop or use an existing style guide to standardize formats across documents.

  • Agile documentation - Approaches like DocOps and docs-as-code help document processes iteratively like software.

  • Diagramming conventions - UML, SIPOC, swimlane, and BPMN diagrams display processes through standard visualization conventions.

The right tools and templates save time, provide structure, and bring visual clarity to process narrative descriptions. They help produce documentation employees actually find useful.

Streamline Your Documentation Process with Docsie

Are you tired of juggling multiple tools and struggling to keep your enterprise documentation organised? Look no further than Docsie, which empowers project managers to effortlessly publish a wide range of interactive knowledge resources.

Documentation for knowledge portals, knowledge bases, help sites, FAQ pages, and self-service pages can be easily managed by Docsie. But it doesn't stop there. Here are some of the top features that will make you fall in love with Docise:

Content Localization:

Docsie makes content localization a breeze. You can easily translate and adapt your documentation to cater to diverse audiences.

Simplified Workflows:

Docsie simplifies your documentation workflow and saves you precious time and effort. Your teams can collaborate seamlessly, with real-time updates and revisions available on the go.

Context-Aware Knowledge Portals:

Docsie can help you create context-aware knowledge portals that adapt to your customers' needs. Whether it's creating content based on customer roles or dynamic attributes, we ensure that your documentation is always spot on. Give Docsie a try, today!

Key Take Aways

Here are the key takeaways on creating effective process documentation:

  • Involve process owners, frontline employees, and cross-functional partners in development for accuracy.

  • Focus on critical steps, summarize supporting details, omit obvious information.

  • Use visual elements like flowcharts, screenshots, and diagrams to simplify complex details.

  • Set reminders for regular review and update of documentation to keep it evergreen.

  • Store documentation centrally and make it easily discoverable by teams.

  • Leverage templates, collaboration tools, and diagramming software to streamline creation.

  • Document processes as they are designed and changed, not after the fact.

  • Pilot test documentation and get user feedback to optimize detail and structure.

  • Assign clear ownership for maintaining accuracy of documentation over time.

  • Follow consistent formatting standards across the organization's documents.

  • Train employees on how to use documentation to improve adoption.

In conclusion, comprehensive and accurate process documentation is a critical element for organizational effectiveness and operational excellence. However, creating quality documentation requires thoughtful planning, execution, and maintenance. Organizations should involve key stakeholders in development, maintain openness to user feedback, utilize visual elements and tools, and establish ongoing review cycles. Documenting processes upfront and keeping documentation evergreen as processes evolve ensures it remains a valuable asset for consistency, efficiency, risk reduction, and improved performance across the enterprise. With the right discipline and resources devoted to getting documentation right, companies can reap the long-term benefits for employees, customers, and their bottom line.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What is process documentation and why is it important?

Process documentation refers to a written set of instructions which describe how different tasks are carried out within an organization. The guidelines are important for many things. To begin with, it brings consistency within an enterprise as well as helps in improving efficiency and streamlining training.

2. What are the key elements to include in process documentation?

Key elements include involving process owners, simplicity, logical organization, specifying details, using templates, standardizing format, readability, visual aids, regular reviews, central storage, and automation.

3. What are some best practices for creating effective process documentation?

Best practices include focusing on the audience, highlighting risks, defining terms, using visual elements, noting policies, customization, forms/templates, ownership, linking documents, highlighting changes, and making it discoverable.

4. How detailed should process documentation be?

The level of detail should be based on the purpose and audience. It should include critical steps, summarize supporting steps, omit obvious information, and leverage visual aids and templates.

5. When should processes be documented?

Processes should be documented in real-time during design, for new processes, when problems arise, for new hires, during changes, periodically, for unwritten rules, and early in projects.

6. Who should be involved in creating process documentation?

Key stakeholders to involve include process owners, frontline employees, cross-functional partners, subject matter experts, new hires, leadership, external stakeholders, quality assurance, training managers, project managers, human resources, and employees in other locations.

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