Documenting Workflows: Benefits, Mistakes & How to Create It

Wuraola Ademola-Shanu
October 19, 2022
September 19, 2023
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Want to improve your team's efficiency? Start documenting your workflows today! Our guide will show best practices and practical steps for workflow documentation.
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Whether you’re managing one or multiple teams, there's a high chance your teammates are dependent on each other. 

And without documenting workflows, there's an even higher probability your team will face:

  • Backstops.
  • Bottlenecks.
  • Misalignment.
  • Mistakes.

You'll see inconsistency in projects and deliverables. And, without proper documentation, it's a challenge to find out who or what caused it. 

Let's talk about documenting workflows, how to avoid common mistakes and best practices for workflow documentation that you can steal today.

TL;DR: documenting workflows

  • Documenting workflows is essential for managing interdependent teams and ensuring consistent projects and deliverables.
  • Documenting your workflows removes confusion for new employees and safeguards organizational knowledge.
  • Workflow documentation helps optimize processes and keeps everyone accountable.
  • Avoid these common mistakes: Not spending enough time on research, being too complex, not training employees and not using the right software.
  • To properly document workflows, make sure to choose one workflow, decide the purpose, collect data, draft the documentation and analyze and optimize the workflow. Scribe and Scribe Pages can help simplify the documentation process.

What is workflow documentation?

A workflow is a sequence of operations or actions carried out to accomplish a specific goal.

Workflow documentation is the process of:

  • Capturing
  • Storing.
  • Tracking and changing.
  • Editing.

... the business documents that define your workflows.

Workflow documentation serves as a blueprint, providing a comprehensive understanding of how we accomplish our work.

Whether you're an early-stage startup, a growing company or an established organization, documenting workflows is essential for optimizing processes, reducing errors and empowering your teams to work more efficiently.

Here's a project documentation example for you to understand it better. Think of your workflows as the smaller tasks that come together to make a full workflow or process.

Let's use the employee onboarding process as an example.

These workflows will involve steps like:

  • Creating an employee file with details including the employee's name, job title, address and contact details.
  • Sending a welcome email, setting up system access and designating a mentor are the next steps in employee onboarding.
  • Developing a training program for the employee.
  • Arranging a meeting with the employee's management to review expectations and establish goals.

To make sure that everything goes successfully, the other departments engaged in an onboarding process, such as HR, IT and Accounting, would need to coordinate their actions and tasks.

The best way to do that? Write it down!


Why is documenting workflows important?

The thing is, if you don't have a standardized set of rules to follow, you won't be able to train others in your workflow, or even know who's doing things the right way.

Without workflow documentation, you’ll likely see inconsistencies with every project and deliverable. This could impact employee production, customer satisfaction and new-hire training.

Here are seven workflow documentation benefits you can’t miss out on:

1. Removes the confusion of employee onboarding

When new employees join, they're already struggling to make the best first impression.

Not having workflow documentation makes their job more complicated and confusing. Eventually, they’ll become more dependent on their team members and managers for the tiniest bit of information. 

And we bet you don’t want that.

You can help new employees or team members quickly grasp any concept by documenting workflows.

Use the documentation as a training and onboarding tool that helps them understand their roles and responsibilities, the overall process flow and how their work integrates with others.

With workflow documentation in place, they’ll feel empowered and confident enough to perform their tasks. 

📌 Onboarding new employees? Check out our intro guide to employee onboarding

2. Safeguards knowledge management

If any of your employees leave your organization or go on vacation for a few weeks, it's still important to know how to replicate their work methods and outcomes. Because when people leave, processes and knowledge sometimes go with them.

You can't afford to let go of your well-developed process and systems. Workflow documentation helps you with developing effective knowledge management (the development, storage and sharing of knowledge within an organization). 

Workflow documentation also helps new employees quickly understand and adopt your established workflows, reducing the learning curve and minimizing disruptions.

3. Helps you optimize the process better 

When trying to reach a particular goal, it's important to analyze each step to ensure you're heading in the right direction. 

“Documenting processes can also help uncover areas of improvement that may not have been apparent before." — Will Yang, Head of Growth, Instrumentl

Workflow documentation provides a clear picture of everything happening and helps you identify potential bottlenecks holding you back from achieving the desired outcomes.

By analyzing your workflows, you can pinpoint areas for optimization, streamlining or process automation. It also provides insights into metrics, so you can use data to make smarter decisions.

4. Brings accountability to the table

Documenting your workflows keeps your team accountable by helping them understand which tasks they're responsible for.

It's important because you might have a good idea of what you're responsible for in a workflow, but your team members might not be aware of the same.

“A well-documented workflow also increases the efficiency of an organization's processes by making it easier for employees to understand what their role is in the process, and how they can best contribute their expertise.” — Gauri Manglik, CEO & Co-founder, Instrumentl

The responsible people for each job are listed in the workflow documentation, so if a step fails, you can have an effective conversation with the responsible person about what went wrong, what needs to be improved and how you can help them.

6. Reduces risk and ensures compliance

Documentation is important for meeting regulatory and compliance requirements. It shows that you're following standards or procedures, makes audits easier and makes sure processes are followed so that you meet all of those compliance requirements.

7. Improves employee well-being and work-life balance

Documenting workflows can have a significant impact on employee well-being and work-life balance. By providing clarity and structure, workflow documentation helps employees feel less stressed and overwhelmed, reducing stress and enabling better time management.

Mistakes to avoid when documenting workflows

To follow best practices when documenting workflows, you need to know the primary mistakes to avoid while creating one. Here are four mistakes you don’t want to make when setting up your new workflow documentation:

1. Not spending enough time on research and analysis

Research and analysis are the first steps in documenting workflows. Basically, they're the foundation your documentation will stand on.

“You will not be able to learn and upgrade your working and documentation processes if you don't devote enough time to research and analysis. For example, we have guidelines on how to do guest posting in our marketing department. Having no previous experience, we researched how others did it by simply googling and reading from reputable industry sources, as well as speaking with specialists in our surroundings. Analyzed the collected information and made a decision based on that. This is how our first workflow documentation is created.” — Kristina, Localizely

2. Making it complex

Embrace simplicity! Don't get trapped trying to write long, complicated paragraphs. Stick to readable, tactical information — avoiding jargon as much as possible.

Don't waste time trying to make things perfect; if you find something that works, stick with it.

You can make any additions slowly and carefully because workflow glitches can result in accidents or increase the time frame for each process. 

3. Not training employees

Without sufficient training, your employees won't know where to look for information and understand how things work.

Workflow documentation training enables more effective communication between departments that adhere to the same regulatory procedures, making this an important step for the entire organization.

4. Not using the right software

Using the right software is crucial to your business. It helps you automate tasks and make your business more efficient.

If you act too quickly and choose the wrong software for your business—you'll lose more time and resources. Because instead of getting things done, you’ll be busy figuring out the software.

Workflow Documentation Software: Your Best Options in 2023

How to create your workflow documentation?

Depending on the nature of the workflow, the purpose of documenting and other factors, the actual process of documenting your workflow may vary.

However, considering you're using an ANSI (American National Standard Institute) flowchart, here's a step-by-step process that you can steal now!

1. Choose one workflow to document

Begin with one process before mapping and documenting the others so you can focus time and resources on ensuring accuracy.

It's an easy step if your company uses only one workflow—however, prioritizing a workflow might be difficult if you have multiple workflows to work on.

Generally, when choosing which workflows to prioritize, you can adopt these three approaches:

1️⃣ Reactive strategy: Choose a workflow that has clear problems, such as one that is ineffective so that you can address this "leakage" quickly.
2️⃣ Strategic approach: Decide on the workflow that increases your organization's revenue.
3️⃣ Customer-centric approach: Select a workflow that will directly affect user experience and/or customer satisfaction. For instance, a workflow when optimized, can reduce customers' wait times.

2. Decide your purpose

Deciding the purpose when documenting workflows is crucial since it helps you identify which information to prioritize.

For example, you don’t need to add a lot of information to the business process documentation if your goal is to just have a well-documented workflow. But, if your goal is to analyze and improve the process in order to increase efficiency, you'll need to precisely and thoroughly document each step.

You can also select the people who’ll have access to the workflow documentation based on the purpose of the documentation.

Apart from that, avoid including sensitive company information in the documentation if you need to share it with third parties.

3. Collect the required data

The next step is to collect as much data as you can about the workflow. For accurate workflow documentation, you need to collect both quantitative and qualitative data.

Data that can be quantified is referred to as quantitative data. It consists of information that can be measured, counted and assigned a number.

For instance, if you have to record the workflow for assembling bikes, the quantitative information you would gather might be as follows:

  • What is the total number of assembled bicycles at any given time?
  • What is the total number of problems at any given time?
  • What is the ratio of bikes that are now accepted and rejected?

While the data that approximates and characterizes is referred to as qualitative data. Qualitative data can be observed and documented, and it’s non-numerical in nature, for example:

  • What are the workflow's beginning and ending triggers?
  • What activities are performed during each stage of the business process?
  • Who is in charge of a particular task?
  • What should be the timeline for the process?
  • What alternative execution paths could be used?

The quantitative information will be easily available. However, to collect qualitative data you’ll need to connect with experts and internal stakeholders to get more information.

You can ask them questions based on your requirements and use them when drafting your workflow documentation.

4. Identify the major stakeholders

Identify the people or teams involved in the workflow. Be sure to include the people who perform the tasks, stakeholders who supervise and the team members who need to provide input at different stages.

5. Define roles & responsibilities

Clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of the individuals or teams involved in your workflow.

Be sure to include who is responsible for each step, who should be consulted or told and what needs to be done if there are problems or delays. This makes it clear who is accountable for each stage and encourages effective teamwork.

6. Capture your decision points

Identify any decision points or conditional branches within the workflow. If your workflow includes decision points or conditional branches, you should explain the criteria or rules that decide which path to take.

Also, state clearly the conditions that cause each decision and the following activities or steps based on those decisions.

7. Include process variations

Things don't always go according to the plan, so including process variations can help you stay on track.

Think about different scenarios or variations that may happen within the workflow. Write down the necessary steps or changes to be made in each situation to ensure a smooth workflow.

8. Document tools and resources

Identify any tools, software, equipment or resources that you use to complete each step of the workflow. Provide clear directions on how to use the tools correctly or find the necessary resources. This information helps make sure the workflow is done correctly and accurately.

9. Include supporting documentation

Add relevant supporting materials, like templates, forms, checklists, reference documents, or standard operating procedures (SOPs). Be sure to provide links or references to these materials for easy access.


10. Include timeframes & deadlines

Include any estimated times or dates for finishing each step or task to keep the workflow efficient. This offers guidelines for the team and helps manage expectations.

11. Draft the workflow documentation

Once you've collected the required data for the workflow, it's time to start drafting your workflow map. Consider using workflow management software that will make it easier for you to see the workflow diagram and will help in the documentation process.

Since you are creating the diagram using the ANSI flowchart method, we would recommend starting by focusing on the various symbols and shapes while ignoring the arrows and connectors. You can add the arrows once you are confident about the positions and arrangement of the shapes.

6 Essential Workflow Documentation Chrome Extensions

12. Analyze and optimize

Now it’s time to determine any bottlenecks and inefficiencies by objectively analyzing the workflow while considering the qualitative and quantitative data.

Then, while optimizing the documentation, put these changes into action.

After modifications are put into place, you should re-involve stakeholders to determine whether the changes have a positive impact. Obtaining stakeholders' input will help ensure the workflow documentation's accuracy.

12. Distribute & maintain

Once the workflow documentation is finalized, publish it in a format accessible to all stakeholders and share the documented workflow with the relevant stakeholders, ensuring it is accessible to those who need it.

Consider using a centralized document workflow management system or a collaboration platform (we highly recommend Scribe 😁👌🏽) to store and maintain the documentation. Update the documentation as needed to reflect any changes or improvements to the workflow.

Pro Tip: Encouraging feedback and suggestions for process improvement is an ongoing process. Regularly review and update your documentation to reflect any changes to the workflow or your company's needs.

Documenting workflows: the how-to guides that write themselves

‎We at Scribe are always determined to make documentation simpler for you.

‎Scribe creates how-to guides in seconds, making complex processes easy to follow. With Scribe, you can provide guides to your team before they can ask, "What's that process again?"


Use ScribeHow to capture and automate your workflows. #ad #usefulwebsites #sharescribe

♬ Flowers - Miley Cyrus
So how does it work?

1. Capture: Click "Start Capture," do your workflow as usual, and Scribe creates a step-by-step guide.

2. Customize: Annotate screenshots, adjust steps and add text.

3. Share: Send with single click, share in the extension or embed your wiki or help center.

Here’s an example of how Scribe can help you create improved workflow documentation.

Scribe auto-generates step-by-step guides that you can edit, combine and duplicate in seconds.

Documenting workflows the right way!

Documenting workflows documentation does take some effort at first. But as soon as it's implemented, your team becomes much more cohesive and effective as everyone will be on the same page, working toward the same goals.

‎And, by adding (dare we say, gorgeous) tools like Scribe into your workflow documentation, you'll be able to increase your process documentation time by 15x! Sign up for free and generate visual step-by-step guides in seconds.

Ready to try Scribe?

Scribe automatically generates how-to guides and serves them to your team when they need them most. Save time, stay focused, help others.