Imagine you’ve just onboarded a great employee. They’ve got tons of experience, so you ask them for help on a business report you’re working on. With the deadline nearing, you quickly run them through the process and ask them to submit the document to their manager once complete.
A couple of days later, you get a call from your CEO. They received a business report riddled with errors. Now you’ll need to rework it from scratch.
What an inconvenience, right?
Proper documentation on how to write business reports can help you avoid that whole mix-up. New employees — no matter how experienced — need extra help with unfamiliar processes. Take NASA’s ground crew, who lost the company a whopping $193 million due to tiny errors in the data processing.
If they had a detailed document to guide them through the task, such mistakes wouldn’t have occurred in the first place. In fact, hospitals have been able to reduce mortality by 24 percent simply by implementing a checklist.
Process documentation is a must-have whether you’re training a new employee or looking for gaps in business strategies. In this article, we’ll dive into different types of documentation and show you how to organize them.
What counts as “business documentation”?
Business documentation is a comprehensive description of various steps in a business process using words, pictures, flowcharts or symbols.
It breaks down the rules of different tasks across the organization. By accurately implementing documentation, your colleagues can understand the nitty-gritty of each project.
We see several types of documentation in businesses. The most popular ones include:
- Financial agreements: Evaluate business performance. They provide details on factors like profits, overhead and ROI.
- Business reports: Assess processes and outputs to provide a clear understanding of performance gaps, thus allowing you to make data-driven decisions.
- Employment agreements: Explains company expectations to new hires. It includes details like job description, employee benefits and company expectations.
- Meeting minutes: Provides detailed information on discussions during each meeting.
Benefits of documenting
Creating internal documentation for your organization isn’t easy. It can often take time, patience and a lot of effort (unless you use automation tools like Scribe). Regardless, it’s a vital process you shouldn’t overlook, given the host of benefits your company stands to gain. Documentation promises impressive results, such as:
When you’re responsible for managing your own team, you need enough documentation on hand. Detailed guides can speed up their learning curve, whether you need to delegate a few tasks or assign a colleague to a new project.
This eliminates all the back-and-forth between everyone involved.
Business processes tend to get repetitive, and you’ll likely find duplications. With the right documentation, employees can get a quick snapshot of what they need to do to get the right outcomes. They won’t waste time hunting down information either.
By writing down the various elements in each process and mapping it out with a flowchart, you’ll be able to identify redundant tasks and automate them with the appropriate tools. You can also identify bottlenecks and propose solutions to simplify the current workflow.
Through business documentation, you’ll be able to remove a lot of guesswork regarding the chain of command and escalation procedures. The best part? HR managers won’t have to keep repeating answers to the same questions.
With the organization's hierarchy set in stone, there won’t be any confusion over who to consult when a project goes awry. Employees can simply look at process documentation to understand which task belongs to whom. It also improves transparency within the organization and makes everyone accountable for their work.
As a manager, you might find employee training a bit challenging. With so much on your plate already, it can be difficult to devote enough time to the onboarding process. Instead of going over the basics every time, you can simply send a detailed document that provides new hires with the know-how for each task they’re assigned.
Another handy use case for business documentation is setting expectations. Use documents like employee agreements to describe responsibilities, rules and regulations. This educates employees on standard practices, paving the way for more accessible corporate governance.
Improves cross-functional collaboration
Picture this: You’re in the process of hiring a new content writer for your company. Although salary negotiation and document verification may fall under your jurisdiction, the Head of Content will likely conduct the interviews and skill tests.
Now, say this is the first time they’re involved in the hiring process. Chances are they aren’t familiar with the company portal’s video application.
The result? They keep running into technical difficulties. Your candidate is left waiting for a half-hour. He repeatedly calls you for updates.
You could have proactively avoided the mishap if you had educated your Head of Content on navigating common technical glitches.
No matter your team, you’ll have to work with colleagues from different departments at some point. If they don’t understand the task, they might not make it a priority. Over 75 percent of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional with no accountability.
So, how do you navigate this situation? The first order of business is to draw up detailed documentation on your department’s core processes. If someone temporarily steps in for a particular task, you can simply share the documentation, and they’ll be able to follow the steps provided without delaying the process.
Documentation gets everyone on the same page. People have different ways of accomplishing a task. When they train someone else, they might give information that deviates from best practices. Count on documentation as a source of truth.
Protects business integrity
Regulatory bodies have an eye on large businesses to ensure compliance with global standards. Hence, up-to-date and accurate documentation is vital to building your company’s reputation.
Company documentation provides information on the company's origins, founding philosophies and vision for the future. Preserve this institutional knowledge — it offers key brand image and identity information.
It also helps employees understand exactly how each process runs and allows them to provide feedback based on facts rather than subjective knowledge.
Helps discover new opportunities
Organizations are constantly looking for ways to learn, improve and grow. To provide the right feedback on business processes, stakeholders and investors need to clearly understand your SOPs.
Before overhauling the entire business strategy, give decision-makers updated documents. They can help identify areas of improvement and new opportunities.
How to standardize and organize documentation in your org
Now you know why we need documentation. But you’re probably scratching your head over how to get started. Let’s dive into a few best practices to follow during the process.
Identify the purpose of the document
Each document you create to streamline organizational processes will have a specific purpose. To create a copy that will make a real business impact, you need to define its need. Ask yourself questions like:
- Where is this document going to be used?
- What should readers be able to do after viewing the document?
- Should the file be duplicated for each department in the company?
Keeping the above in mind, craft a purpose statement. This statement will serve as a guiding point while you create your document.
Establish the benefits of reading the document to readers in the introduction. Once you start writing, you may need to revise your purpose statement. If this happens, then don’t forget to tweak the other elements of your document too.
Understand the viewers of the document
After you’ve identified the need and benefits of your business document, create a list of readers, segmenting them according to their role in the organization. Add these readers into buckets ranging from employees and managers to clients and investors. If you want to be more specific, you can include department-specific designations too.
Once you understand your audience, you can zero in on the right tone of voice and ensure your message gets through. Think about how they’ll access the document — postal mail, email, fax transfer, instant messaging — and tailor it accordingly. Other factors to consider are skill set, department, expertise and cultural context. This will help you create a document that caters to every employee’s requirements.
Identify the documentation format
Based on your audience, you’ll need to think about how you should present your business documentation.
For example, hierarchical steps are ideal for creating documents for the product team, considering the sheer volume of complex processes involved. However, regularizing your attendance on an HR platform like ZingHR would be easier to understand as a flowchart because it includes multiple dependencies.
After you’ve narrowed your options down to a few key formats, list the various steps for a particular business process, from start to finish. If the process is long, it’s wise to follow a step-by-step format. Here, you’ll have to provide step-by-step instructions along with appropriate multimedia. This is an engaging training method most employees can keep up with (especially if they’re visual learners).
Scribe top tip: With Scribe, you can easily automate this process by recording your workflow. The tool will quickly spin up user-friendly step-by-step guides, complete with text and screenshots. It’s a lot more effective than copy-pasting text and images manually.
Collect all the information to be documented
Ask your colleagues to list key business processes. Try to find out which aspects of these tasks need a detailed explanation. Label simple or repetitive tasks so that you can prioritize accordingly.
Finally, collate all the information into a single point of access. This way, employees can quickly retrieve the data and understand which part of their job needs documentation. It’s also a good idea to build a library for all your assets and follow a standard naming convention to streamline processes further.
Use a recording tool
There are a ton of software documentation tools on the market. They can facilitate the creation and management of all your business documentation.
For instance, Evernote is an excellent tool for documenting meeting minutes. You can automatically sync your notes, assign tasks and save web pages.
On the other hand, if you’re documenting a standard operating procedure, it would be more apt to use a tool like Scribe. All you need to do is hit record and perform your tasks as usual. Scribe will then turn your process into a user-friendly guide. The whole process is simple, quick and free of hassle.
Neatly organize your documentation and manage access
On average, employees spend nearly 2.5 hours a workday scouring through large data sets to find information that will guide them through a task. That’s because our workflow conversations can live in emails, Slack messages or an Asana inbox. Organize all your documentation in one central place so employees can find it quickly — and stop wasting time.
They’ll also be able to collaborate and share tips on how to complete tasks most productively.
You can segment all the documents based on the relevant department, projects and role. Don’t forget to manage access settings by choosing who gets view-only access and who can make direct edits.
Documentation is not a one-off solution. As your organization grows, business processes will evolve with it. Review and update your documentation regularly. If you’ve already got too much work in the pipeline, you can assign a review to someone on your team and ask them to notify the team as they update.
Document your way through business success
Make life easier for you and your colleagues by creating the proper documentation to streamline business workflow. This will help eliminate redundancies and focus on high-value tasks. Follow the steps in the guide to nailing the art of clear documentation. You’ll see great results in no time.
If you’re intimidated by the prospect of documenting your company’s business processes, fret not. Scribe can simplify the process by churning out in-depth guides with a button click.
What are you waiting for? Get started right away.