Document Like a Pro: How to Write Process Documentation

Ayush Sood
July 22, 2022
min read
April 25, 2024
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Learn how to write process documentation like a pro. Discover expert tips, best practices and tools for creating efficient and error-free documentation in our step-by-step guide.
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Is your company losing valuable time and money due to mismanaged processes? Unfortunately, this problem is all too common in the workplace.

According to a Forrester study, 63 percent of knowledge workers spend too much time searching for the right people or information to help them.

Are you ready to change this at your organization?

That's where process documentation comes in — it streamlines onboarding, fosters collaboration and saves your company time and money while delivering consistent, high-quality results.

In this blog, we'll explore the importance of process documentation, types, best practices, and how to document processes in your organization.

what is process documentation?

TL;DR: How to write process documentation

  • Process documentation includes step-by-step guides, SOPs, runbooks, instruction manuals, checklists, and flowcharts.
  • To write process documentation, define goals, identify stakeholders, use tools/templates, write content, conduct peer reviews, publish, and audit.
  • Key roles in process documentation include process owners, SMEs, technical writers, QA executives, and additional stakeholders.
  • Proper process documentation protects institutional knowledge, helps train employees, boosts productivity, and reduces distractions.

What is process documentation?

Process documentation is a written breakdown of a process or activity from the beginning to the end result. Process documents usually include annotated screenshots or illustrations to outline each step clearly, along with a list of resources.

Free process documentation template
Free process documentation template

‎These guides explain the "how" of procedures or business processes. For example, your company's IT department might create a process document for setting up a new employee's laptop, which includes step-by-step instructions to install the required software and troubleshooting tips. The software documentation ensures that every new hire is onboarded seamlessly.

In short, process documentation:

  • Helps employees work efficiently and independently.
  • Ensures consistent and reliable results.
  • Lays the foundation for innovation and process improvements.

Why document processes?

According to a study by Panopto, eight out of 10 employees feel frustrated when they can't find the information they need to do their job well — hampering their productivity. As a software engineer at an enterprise consulting firm, I experienced this frustration firsthand. 

With my projects and teams changing multiple times a year, I spent days trying to understand the client's industry and technology while bombarding my colleagues with questions. The wait for answers from experienced coworkers working remotely could take hours, even for a five-minute question. My managers could have easily avoided the time wasted by new project members by fostering a culture of proper documentation or recorded sessions to streamline the onboarding process for new project members.

Clear, concise process documentation empowers employees to work efficiently and independently, saving your company time and money while delivering consistent, high-quality results.

Benefits of process documentation

Here are a few ways documenting processes can benefit your organization:

  1. Increase efficiency: Documented processes streamline operations, eliminate redundancies, and identify areas for improvement, making processes more efficient.
  2. Better collaboration: Documenting a process promotes better communication and collaboration among team members by providing a shared understanding of processes.
  3. Continuous improvement: Documented processes can be analyzed and optimized continuously, improving quality and performance.
  4. Reduced costs: By improving efficiency and minimizing errors, process documentation can help organizations reduce business operation costs and increase profitability.
  5. Enhanced customer satisfaction: Consistently followed processes lead to better quality products or services — and customer service — resulting in increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  6. Standardization: Process documentation ensures that tasks are performed consistently, reducing errors and variations.
  7. Knowledge preservation: Capture the knowledge and expertise of employees, preventing the loss of critical information when staff members leave or retire.
  8. Regulatory compliance: Documented processes help organizations comply with industry regulations and standards.
  9. Training and onboarding: Well-documented processes make it easier to train new employees and help them understand their roles and responsibilities.

One striking example of the consequences of poor process documentation is NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter mission failure in 1999. The spacecraft, intended to orbit Mars at an altitude of 226 km, disintegrated upon entering the planet's atmosphere.

The root cause was a simple unit conversion error: one engineering team used metric units while another used English units for key spacecraft operations.

This costly mistake, resulting in the loss of the $193 million satellite, could have been avoided with well-maintained and properly documented processes.

💡 Scribe tip: When creating your process documentation, highlight the areas where it's common to make mistakes or miss steps, so your team members are aware and less likely to make them.

How to write process documentation

  1. Define your goal(s).
  2. Identify your stakeholders.
  3. Start writing your process documentation.
  4. Use a process documentation tool or template.
  5. Conduct a peer review.
  6. Share documentation with the right people.
  7. Audit your process document.

Ready to start documenting processes for your team? Follow these seven steps to write process documentation.

1. Define your goal(s)

Before writing process documentation, the first thing to do is to determine what you want to achieve.

Here are some typical process documentation goals:

  • Onboarding new employees.
  • Reducing the time your team spends searching for information.
  • Eliminate guesswork and ensure consistency in performing critical tasks.
  • Ensure compliance with industry regulations and standards.
  • Knowledge transfer and mitigating the risk of knowledge loss.
  • Supporting your organization's growth and scalability.

Defining your objectives will help you determine which process to document first and measure the efficacy of your process documentation initiatives.

2. Identify your process documentation stakeholders

Process documentation should be a collaborative effort, as no single person can effectively document an entire organization's or team's processes alone. Assemble a team of documentation experts to lead the effort.

Process documentation involves several key roles within an organization:

  1. Process owners: These individuals manage the entire lifecycle of business process documentation. They set goals, allocate resources, and ensure the results align with the business expectations. Process owners serve as your documentation process's starting point and primary drivers.
  2. Subject matter experts (SMEs): SMEs provide valuable process knowledge and expert insights to ensure the success of the documentation process. Their input is crucial for creating accurate and comprehensive documentation.
  3. Technical writers: They use templates and specialized software to create process documents. They possess expertise in technical documentation and convert information gathered from SME interviews and other inputs into well-structured written content.
  4. Quality assurance (QA) executives: QA executives review all documents for errors, accuracy and impact. They validate the content to ensure compliance and reliability, playing a critical role in maintaining the quality of the documentation.
  5. Additional stakeholders: Depending on the team structure and job titles, other stakeholders may also be involved in the process documentation effort, providing valuable input and feedback.

In larger organizations, a change management team may also be responsible for quickly documenting any modifications to processes or strategies.

💡 Scribe tip: The ideal person to document a process is someone who uses it daily. Please keep an open mind when selecting stakeholders to participate in the project, as hands-on experience and insights are invaluable.

3. Start writing your process documentation

Each process document should include the following:

  • Business process name: Try to create and use a standard, clear nomenclature for all process documents.
  • Define the scope: Briefly explain the process boundary — what is included in the process and what is not.
  • Resource allocation: Identify the resources they need to complete the process.
  • Process input and output: Identify the inputs, tasks and the desired outcome of the process once it’s completed.
  • Process guide: Jot down each step in the process, including what triggers the process or detailing the outcomes and working backward.
  • List of stakeholders: Include everyone involved in the process documentation, define their roles and add contact information.

4. Use a process documentation tool or template

We recommend using a process documentation tool to help you quickly create, share and store your process documentation.

For example, Scribe is an AI-powered process documentation Chrome extension that writes documentation for you. It captures your screen to create a visual guide — including text, links and annotated screenshots.

Process documentation on how to create a workflow in Asana
Process documentation on how to create a workflow in Asana

Scribe captures your onscreen actions, including:

  • Mouse movements and clicks to show users how to navigate a software program or website.
  • Keystrokes to show users how to type text or enter commands.
  • On-screen clicks and changes to show users how to complete a process.

‎Make as many guides as you need, then use Scribe Pages to combine your Scribes with video, images and AI-generated text.

Use Scribe
Use Scribe's AI to write tailored process documentation

🔥 ‎This is where automating process documentation with Scribe is more efficient and saves time: Scribe pairs AI with your company-specific processes to create process documentation tailored to your unique business processes.

You can also use tools like Microsoft Visio, Google Drawings, Lucidchart and SmartDraw to visualize processes.

💡 ‎‎Scribe tip: Once you've identified your tool, you can create a standard process documentation format or template you and your team can use repeatedly.


5. Conduct a peer review

Ensuring accuracy, conciseness, and clarity is vital to creating high-quality process documentation. Gather feedback from relevant stakeholders in a peer review process before publishing — their insights can be helpful in determining how useful a document is and how easy it is to follow.

Tools like Scribe offer built-in feedback systems that streamline the review process. It allows for easy process step editing and enables submitting process documents for approval.

Get feedback on your process documentation: what is process documentation?
Get feedback from your documentation team

By incorporating feedback from the peer review, you can refine your documentation, resulting in more effective and efficient processes for your organization.

6. Share documentation with the right people

After completing your process documentation, share it with team members and, when appropriate, the rest of your organization. Consider the security of your documentation by using process documentation software that allows you to publish private documents accessible only to employees and selected individuals within the company. This approach ensures the confidentiality of sensitive information while maintaining accessibility for those who require it.

For example, you can use tools like Confluence, Google Docs, and Scribe, which have granular access controls, to share your process documents securely.

7. Audit your process document

Get feedback from your team after publishing documentation to improve clarity and practicality. For instance, if multiple employees report difficulty understanding a specific step in a process, consider simplifying the language or adding visual elements to enhance comprehension. Iterating based on feedback can help ensure efficient processes and improved organizational results — continuous improvement.

Types of process documentation

Different types of process documentation serve different business functions. Here are the top process documentation examples you'll likely run into in the workplace, and how to use them to document a process.

  1. Step-by-step guides.
  2. Standard operating procedures.
  3. Runbooks.
  4. Instruction manuals.
  5. Checklists.
  6. Flowcharts and diagrams.

1. Step-by-step guides

How to write a process documentation step-by-step guide: Set your profile on Slack
Step-by-step guide: Set your profile on Slack

‎A step-by-step or how-to guide is the simplest type of process documentation. These internal or external how-to guides list each step in a task.

Step-by-step guides include:

  • A brief task overview.
  • A detailed step-by-step walkthrough with a short description of each process step.
  • Images, screenshots or GIFs.
  • The expected outcome.

Unlike larger project documentation, how-to guides are best for running through shorter, consumable processes. We recommend organizing related process guides in a training manual or internal knowledge base.

2. Standard operating procedures

Free ‎standard operating procedures template: how to write process documentation
Free ‎standard operating procedures template

Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are detailed, written instructions describing how to perform a specific organizational task or process. While SOPs are commonly associated with regulated industries such as accounting, manufacturing, and healthcare, they can benefit any industry or department looking to standardize processes, ensure consistency, and maintain quality. We commonly see them used by customer service, IT, software documentation, and business operation teams.

A typical SOP has the following sections:

  • Clear title.
  • Table of contents.
  • Fundamental purpose.
  • Procedures.
  • Role and responsibility
  • Accountability measures.

3. Runbooks

Octopus Apache runbook example: how to write process documentation
Runbook example on installing Apache. (Image Source: Octopus Apache)

A runbook is a procedural guide, sometimes automated, that outlines the steps needed to complete a typical process within the IT department. Serving as a reference, they help automate processes or guide employees through problem-solving and proper tool usage.

A comprehensive runbook typically includes:

  • Overview: A concise description of the procedure or service.
  • Authorization: Specifies who has access to the runbook and their permissions.
  • Procedural steps: Details the installation and deployment of necessary protocols.
  • Monitoring system data: Provides step-by-step instructions for setting up monitoring system alarms.
  • Disaster recovery strategies: Collect service-level agreement documents, escalation methods, and incident response information.
  • Technical manuals: Includes or references essential system information, such as configuration and analytics.

Runbooks are typically task-specific, providing a detailed, step-by-step breakdown of actions and expected results.

4. Instruction manuals

Canva's clear video instruction manuals. (Image Source: Canva)

Instruction manuals (also called user manuals) are customer-facing documents that walk them through how to build or use your product. They enhance user experience, satisfaction and safety. Depending on the industry, they protect vendors and customers from severe consequences, such as injuries, legal issues, or even death.

They often include:

  • An overview.
  • A list of tools or resources.
  • Step-by-step instructions.
  • Illustrations or screenshots.
  • A description of the expected outcome or result.

5. Checklists

Free client onboarding checklists: how to write process documentation
Free client onboarding checklists

‎A checklist is particularly useful for tasks that don't need to be done in a particular order or require additional context. Using it makes you more organized and efficient and helps create repeatable success. 

Some checklist examples are:

  • Job aid checklists.
  • Training checklists.
  • Implementation checklists.
  • Troubleshooting checklists.
  • Recurring process checklists.
  • Client onboarding checklists for sales and customer service.

You probably use a standard checklist to tick off your daily to-do tasks. They're also often visible in service industries to describe opening and closing procedures.

6. Flowcharts and diagrams

Flowchart Symbols Diagram: how to write process documentation
Flowchart symbols diagram. (Image Source: Scribe)

Flowcharts, or process maps, are a visual breakdown of processes. We often use these in situations with several options and paths a user might take. These visual representations outline the user journey and showcase different results.

Flowcharts usually include:

  • A mapped visual outline breaks down each step in the journey.
  • Arrows indicate different options.
  • Symbols associated with actions.
  • If/then choice indicators.

Process documentation best practices

Whether you’re starting process documentation from scratch or looking to improve your implementation approach, these process documentation best practices will take you a long way:

  1. Review and update: As your processes evolve or you add new processes, make sure to update or create new documentation as needed. Look at your company roadmap and consider the need for documentation from both team member and user perspectives.
  2. Use visuals: Process documentation needs to be easy to read and understand. Visual elements such as flowcharts and screenshots help employees easily understand any process.
  3. Write to a specific audience: Make sure you know the main audience for each document and write in simple language for maximum understanding.
  4. Get hands-on experience: Go beyond your SMEs to get process details from employees directly involved in its execution. This will bring you more accurate ideas and insights.
  5. Create a knowledge base: Use centralized knowledge management software or knowledge base software to make it easy to find information. An internal knowledge base provides easy access to docs, cutting the hassle of searching through multiple platforms to answer a question.

📌 Related resource: Top digital adoption platforms


Process documentation vs. process mapping

Process documentation and process mapping are related but distinct concepts.

  • Process documentation is a guide that provides a detailed, step-by-step execution of a process.
  • A process map is a visual tool that represents the flow of a process.

For example, an HR department might create a process document with instructions for onboarding new employees, while a process map would illustrate the onboarding process from start to finish. Documentation ensures consistency, while mapping provides an overview for identifying improvements.

What is a procedure document?

A procedure document (or procedure manual) is a comprehensive guide detailing steps for specific tasks within an organization:

  • It includes essential instructions, best practices, standards, and tips.
  • The document ensures employees understand and follow the prescribed procedures.
  • It serves as a resource for maintaining consistency, efficiency, and quality in task execution.

What's the difference between product documentation and process documentation?

  • Product documentation provides a description of the product and instructions for its effective use.
  • Process documentation includes all materials generated during product development, detailing the creation process.

Start building process documentation

‎We can't overstate the importance of creating process documentation. In a study from the University of California Irvine, researchers led by Gloria Mark shadowed workers on the job, studying their productivity. Here's what study lead Gloria Mark told Fast Company about their research:

"We found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here's the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task."

It's not just a best practice; it's a necessity for companies that want to:

  • Improve efficiency.
  • Reduce errors.
  • Achieve consistent, high-quality results.

So whether you're a small business or large enterprise, use our tips to start building and sharing process documentation today.

Generate visual process documents in half the time — for free!

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