Documenting business processes sounds like a daunting task. Intimidating? Yes, we’ll say it is. We have gone through the process ourselves to get our entire team in sync.
As Tiffany Zhao, our head of Strategic Initiatives, points out:
“Process documentation at Scribe started very much in response to a direct need. The company was growing fast and folks realized storing knowledge and executional know-how in our brains wasn’t going to scale well.”
Zhao further adds:
“Investing upfront in building a “lightweight knowledge base” has helped immensely and it continues to grow and evolve. We’re now able to ramp others up much more quickly and effectively on our tools, enabling peers and colleagues to accomplish more and move faster.”
So, if you want to scale up your business, learn how to document a business process. Once you log the steps, no one no longer needs to waste time wondering how to do things. Seventy two percent people noticed improvements due to process management practices.
Now, the question is: where even to begin?
Start here, with this article. We will walk you through the entire process to document your business process. The article has all the necessary steps you need.
Let’s dive in.
Why is business process documentation important?
Do you know about the incident with NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO)? From back 1998-99? Well, after nine months of its departure from earth, MCO disappeared into the Martian atmosphere. It crashed because of a conversion error. Yes, conversion error.
Now, what does this incident have to do about business process documentation?
A lot, actually. If only NASA had documented checks and validation procedures, the disaster could have been avoided. That’s the power of documenting. Process documentation helps in streamlining business processes.
Here are a few benefits of rational documentation:
- simplifies complex processes.
- makes business operations efficient.
- ensures consistency in processes.
- improves communication among the team.
- prevents chances of critical errors.
What are the types of business process documentation?
You can categorize business development process flow into the following types:
- Process Flowcharts: sequential and visual representations of the process flows.
- Process Maps: synonymous with flowcharts, but they’re more detailed.
- Organizational Charts: show the different roles and responsibilities in a team.
- Onboarding Documents: help new hires get familiar with the company processes.
- Reference Guides: training manuals to help employees understand their work.
- White Papers: company documents detailing the features of products and services.
- Video Tutorials: educate employees about the essential practices and standards.
- Documentation Templates: standardize the process of documenting and reporting.
- Process Checklists: verification checklists of the tasks to be executed for a process.
- Process Library: database of all the business process documentation.
All business documentation should be available to employees at all times. They should be accessible from any system and anywhere through a central (and secure) server.
You can use Scribe to document your processes and build your centralized knowledge space. It’s probably the best way to document a business process and create reference guides.
How to Document your business processes?
Here’s how to document a business process step-by-step. Follow these, and you’ll have your process flows captured in the most efficient way possible.
1. Choose a process to document
The first step to compiling business process flows is to pick a process. Each documentation is a project in itself. Even the simplest ones can have 23 steps to follow. We simply don’t recognize them because we’re habituated. But it’s not the same for new employees. New hires can take six months or longer to understand the work
So, start with the most important processes. And then, move a level down as you complete documenting them.
2. Define the process boundaries
Many processes overlap across divisions. And documenting them, you would enter a rabbit hole, rather a tunnel, wondering which way next. The boundaries (process scope) keep you on track and your resources under your control.
In process scope, you can include essential information such as due dates, key stakeholders and success metrics. These factors keep your documentation focused on the goals.
3. Identify resources & results
Next, collect all the information you need for that particular process. It takes time. And it would be best to let it run to completion. By the end, you’ll know everything about the process: people and skills, tools used and process results.
For small teams, it’s best to have the team lead collect all raw data as the process progresses. Similarly, they can zero in on the goal/output gradually.
4. Brainstorm the process steps
Once you have the information, connect with the business process consultants and the users. These are the ones who will be beating themselves out to bring the results.
Sit together around a table and break each process into individual steps. Steps like:
- Writing an email.
- Who to forward for approval.
- Who to CC it.
- When and how to follow up
That’s how to document a business process — without ambiguity.
Here's an example made with Scribe.
5. Connect the steps in sequence
This is the step where your documentation starts taking its initial shape. Take the list you’ve come up with and organize the steps sequentially. You’ll be able to build business process flows that work out for you.
Put all the steps in chronological order. You know, like flatten the dough, spread sauce and toppings, and bake it for a piping hot pizza. That’s it.
Properly laid out process flows also make it easy to automate business process later.
6. Assign roles to team members
When you’re done organizing the steps, put the roles against them. Mention the departments in control of the various tasks, and describe everyone who needs to be involved. It’s probably the easiest of the documentation steps. Organizational charts will come in handy.
7. Visualize the entire process
Next, chart everything for a visual representation. You can create simple process flowcharts or more detailed process maps. It’s fun either way. Pick a business process modeling tool that suits you the best and get going.
Some of the visualization tools you can try are:
- Flowcharting tools like Diagrams.net.
- Mind-mapping tools like XMind.
- Whiteboarding tools like Miro.
8. Test and tweak the process flow
Now, implement and review the results. You don’t want project management risks to creep in. They can derail the entire flow.
So, use checklists to ensure things are working as planned. Take team feedback, identify new issues (if any) and correct everything. Check if everything is in order. Make necessary changes for smooth functioning. It’s time for business process optimization.
9. Finalize the best fit & document
The last step in process documentation is to collect all the bits and pieces, charts and maps, and feedback and suggestions. Put them together to design training manuals, reference guides or whatever else you want. Just make sure they’re easily accessible.
You can use Scribe to document and create quick guides. Whether a tap on the keyboard or a click on the mouse, Scribe records everything and lays them down in a document. It saves you plenty of precious minutes.
Check this step-by-step guide template to accelerate your documentation.
What are the various process documentation challenges?
Among the most common challenges with process documentation are the following:
1. Complicated update procedure
Maintaining and documenting processes is a complex maze of activities with each business upgrade. The larger the business, the higher the complexity. With each business process improvement, previous documentation becomes obsolete.
2. Multiple document copy
Many times, individual processes overlap across departments. HR might be using a document with the goal of onboarding, the team lead will be using it for training, and IT; for maintenance. It creates repetition. And, of course, wastage of time, effort and resources.
3. Inconsistent style and standard
With each team having its own documentation, inconsistencies arise. No two people will create documentation in the same style, to the same standard. They’ve different levels of experience. And the resultant documentation is all over the place.
4. Lack of collaboration
Process documents often need to go through multiple iterations. You have to go back and forth between different team members. Without collaborative tools, it might take weeks (if not months) to finalize even the first version of the documentation.
5. No single source of truth
The lack of a single online documentation source is another challenge in business models. The absence of accessible documentation makes employees less productive. Especially in remote work, it’s a roadblock to fruitful teamwork. Fifty six percent of employees said they needed to ask more than one person for help.
What are process documentation best practices to follow?
Keeping best practices and standards in mind can help you create adequate documentation of all business processes. Here are a bunch of them.
- Keep your process documents simple and concise.
- Use appropriate content formats for easy comprehension.
- Store process documents in a central knowledge base.
- Revisit and review your processes regularly.
- Set rules for clear and consistent updating procedures.
- Build a system for collective knowledge sharing.
- Choose a collaborative process documentation tool like Scribe.
Try Scribe Pages to build your online documentation directory. You can insert screenshots and videos, link to docs and add text instructions. It also integrates with business tools like Miro and HubSpot. So, you can create guides effortlessly and improve business processes.
Just scribe it
Business process documentation paves the way to process optimization and improvement. Quality documentation removes bottlenecks and smoothens your process flows. And now that you know how to document a business process, prepare yourself for more efficient processes.