Documentation

Internal Documentation: Everything You Need to Know (+Tips)

Are you building internal documentation for the first time? Or maybe you have knowledge, but need organization. Here are tips to get started.

Introduction

Ever wondered what’s constantly making your employees disengaged and unproductive at work?

It can be a lack of a structured information flow that leads to poor communication. 

When poor communication is the bane of your company's existence, chances are high that your employees make poor business decisions that can negatively affect your organizational growth.

According to McKinsey, the average employee spends almost 20 percent of every workweek tracking down the information or colleagues who can help them do their jobs. That wasted time is usually expensive — it would cost you $10,000 yearly for employees earning the median U.S. salary.

Ops and client-facing teams with poor internal documentation practices face the following consequences:

  • Inconsistencies in the quality of work.
  • Less clarity and transparency.
  • End up repeating each other's mistakes.
  • Conflicting guidance on what to do in specific situations.
  • Constantly reinventing the "wheel" when solving problems. 
  • Little to no employee morale because your employees have to constantly chase down answers instead of getting stuff done.
  • Wasting precious time daily hunting for the information they need.

When this (and more) happens, the likelihood that knowledge is all too often stored in the heads of your employees is high. However, if the knowledge is documented at all, it's most likely hidden in Slack channels or archived emails, messages or unregulated docs. 

Consequently, there's no single source of effective documentation and employees waste time and effort searching for the information they need.

Is there a better solution? You bet! It's none other than using an internal documentation tool— an operation manual that allows you to share your knowledge and enable employees to reference it whenever they have a question.

What is internal documentation?

Internal documentation is the practice of authoring and maintaining clearly detailed processes and procedures for reference by your internal team members.

Basically, it's the process of getting all of your company knowledge in one place. Doing this requires building an open-source knowledge base as a reference point for all company processes and procedures.

It's important to note that internal documentation is different from external documentation. As the name implies, external documentation is used by people outside of your company – such as the user manual given to your customers.

Additionally, internal documentation can be slightly confusing because it’s usually linked to software development and IT — as these teams need to carefully document the code for the software and applications they build. 

However, while it might have technical roots, effective team documentation is a practice that can be helpful across your entire company, from your Ops team to client-facing teams like your customer support department.

Scribe top tip: Internal company documentation isn't limited to text and can come in other forms like screenshots, videos, screen recordings, checklists, diagrams, pictures and video tutorials.

Internal vs. external documentation

Internal and external documentation both serve company documentation goals — documenting processes, explaining how to do things, knowledge sharing, etc. However, the major difference is in the intended target audience. 

  • Internal documentation – The target audience is your company’s employees.
  • External documentation – The target audience is your clients, users, customers, vendors, etc. 

This means that outsiders like your customers shouldn't be privy to your internal documentation, but your employees will rely on internal documentation to get their work done.

Types of internal documentation

Internal documentation is meant for a team's own use and should live somewhere that the team can easily access. If possible, set permissions so that only team members can view these docs. Anything that is meant for a wider audience can live in a company Wiki or in a more "public" area on the company shared drive.

The following are internal documentation examples your company should create:

Project documentation

Project documentation relates to all the internal documents created over the course of a project. It can come in forms ranging from project proposals to business cases, strategy, meeting minutes, risk analysis, issue logs, etc. 

These documents are essential for clarifying project objectives, planning and assigning resources, as well as keeping all project stakeholders aligned. Good project documentation ensures that your team always has a trusted single source of project-related information, guaranteeing that the project is done as well—or even better than—the last one.

Here's how to document your next project points:

  • Business case or project idea.
  • Project charter or initiation document.
  • Project plan or projection.
  • Schedule or timeline.
  • Status report or tracking.
  • Budget tracker or remaining funds.
  • Lessons learned/ areas of improvement.
  • Project closure document or project summary.

Process documentation

Process documentation is the type of internal documentation describing company policies, procedures and processes relating to how work is carried out. It includes how-to guides, checklists, SOPS, step-by-step guide templates and best practices that train employees on how to do their jobs.

Effective process documentation should describe and explain:

  • The scope.
  • Boundaries.
  • Inputs and outputs.
  • Stakeholder involvement.
  • Steps.
  • Processes outline.
  • Exceptions.
  • Testing.

Summarily, you should include every part of the process from start to finish, including possible exceptions and out-of-flow scenarios.

Policy/HR documentation

This type of internal documentation allows you to document important policies, such as employee handbook templates, employee onboarding, vacation policies, sick days, employee offboarding, etc.

The HR section of your knowledge base should include (but isn't limited to):

  • An effective employee handbook.
  • Onboarding schedule.
  • Offboarding schedule.
  • Employee policies.
  • Training materials.
  • Employee development plan.
  • Training checklists.
  • Performance reviews
  • Compliance information.

Team documentation

Team documentation provides information related to the work being done by a team — things such as goals, project plans, team schedules, status reports, meeting notes, etc.

Reference documentation

Reference documentation educates people on important topics, processes, and policies. This could be how to request a vacation day or how to ask for a reimbursement.

Technical documentation

If your company has a development team, creating their own internal documentation captures and explains what’s happening in the product requirements, source code, style guides, internal infrastructure, architecture, development processes, FAQs, QA testing policies, etc.

Some organizations write their documentation in one software or program and then share it in another, thus wasting time and risking having more versions of the same file. This is why it's important to use process documentation software with a built-in code editor instead and be able to write code and other documents in the same place.

Scribe allows you to create documents like tutorials or software code straight from your knowledge base and easily share it with your team and customers. After all, the whole point of creating technical docs or user manuals is to help users by sharing the technical aspects of your work with customers who might need this data.

Access to it will help you decrease the number of support requests, improve customer satisfaction, earn you more money; and most importantly, onboard, train and support clients 93 percent faster.

Importance of effective internal documentation

GitHub’s 2017 Open Source Survey listed “incomplete or confusing documentation” as the number one problem encountered in open-source software development, observed by 93 percent of respondents.

What's most startling is that 60 percent of contributors said they “rarely or never” contribute to documentation. The study concluded that “internal documentation is highly valued, but often overlooked,” summing up a major problem with internal documentation: Without the proper structure in place, there’s no accountability.

Simply put, you can’t afford to ignore it. Here's why effective internal documentation is important:

  • Boosts productivity by documenting important processes and details, you can ensure that employees don’t get stuck unnecessarily, which boosts your overall productivity.
  • Promotes knowledge sharing by encouraging employees to share knowledge. Furthermore, employees can easily access the knowledge that other employees have shared without needing to directly interact with the original sharer each time.
  • Aids knowledge preservation. At some point, employees will leave, either permanently or because of vacation/illness. Having internal documentation ensures that the knowledge of those employees is still preserved and accessible even when they’re gone.
  • Onboards new employees more efficiently – when a new employee joins your company, they’ll be able to rely on your internal knowledge to quickly acclimatize to their work environment and responsibilities.

How do you know if your internal documentation process is effective?

Good question! Here are guaranteed tips on how to measure the effectiveness of your internal documentation process.

1. Identify what you currently have

What do you currently have? Do you already have internal documentation in place, or are you starting from scratch? If you're starting from scratch, you need to select who should be in charge of significant processes or the knowledge base.  

However, if you have a basic internal documentation system in place, chances are your business doesn’t have a regulated, open-source internal documentation software; hence, your employees most likely created theirs to ensure they keep knowledge somewhere. This could mean several Google docs related to personal accounts, Microsoft word documents on email chains or passwords and sensitive info stored in various note apps on mobile devices. 

If that's the case, retrieve all information. This process will help you understand who has an overview of what and get in line with how people think information should be stored.

2. Can your internal documentation be easily navigated?

Building a knowledge base would amount to nothing if your team cannot easily search for and find what they're looking for.

Does your internal documentation have a table of contents or index that provides structure? Are they placed at the beginning of the document to help guide the keyword search process?

3. What's the UX/UI architecture & template like?

Can employees easily engage with the knowledge base? How will they navigate between documents? What information or documents makes the most sense to group together? 

If someone is looking for a particular piece of information, what other information will they find useful? It’s all part of the UX architecture.

Are you creating visually appealing templates that are as engaging and joyful to read as they are knowledgeable? You can’t expect teams to read through great chunks of text, or unformatted copy, without losing interest or suffering from a migraine.

Scribe top tip: Build templates that are conscious of the visual design and aesthetic appeal of your knowledge base. Luckily, Scribe has a vast array of templates to choose from to boost creativity and eradicate duplicity. 

4. Assign creators

Internal documentation is a big project and one that you can’t possibly expect to oversee it alone. It's not possible for a single employee, especially in a large organization, to know the ins and outs of every department and process.

Therefore, assign your knowledge base creators and call a structured meeting to onboard them to the authoring tool and launch the project. By “outsourcing” your knowledge base, you’ll ensure a more in-depth overview of the process and give yourself a holistic overview of the project status.

5. Map operational use

While your stakeholders create their outlines and fill out your internal documentation templates, it’s time to compose the company wiki’s runbook. This “how-to” will be at the forefront of your onboarding campaign — and must be as clear as possible.

These user guides should include example use cases, a guide for getting started and future use, including any FAQs you think might pop up in the future.

6. Update your internal documentation

Consider your internal documentation as living sources of information — since employees will refer to them often and in times of need.

There’s nothing worse than someone using your knowledge base only to find outdated information and have to email around asking for the new information they need.

Internal documentation challenges

Now that you know what internal documentation is and its importance, let’s examine common internal documentation challenges and solutions to fix them.

Inaccessibility

One of the biggest internal documentation challenges many companies face is the inability of its people to easily access information, especially from a single central platform. Luckily, with Scribe, your internal documentation hub is easy to browse and search. You can also use categories and features like instant search suggestions or specific keywords to help employees find relevant content.

Lack of a style guide

A style guide is a document that provides guidelines for the way your brand should be presented from both a graphic and language perspective. The purpose of a style guide is to make sure that multiple contributors create in a clear and cohesive way that reflects the corporate style and ensures brand consistency with everything from design to writing. Simply put, a style guide is like sailing with a map – you may know the general routes but you need that document to provide specific, overarching directions.›

A lack of a style guide equals a lack of cohesion and consistency. For example, our content editor (Hey, Lauren 😁✌🏽) created a style guide for all freelance writers to ensure uniformity in writing, differentiate Scribe's product, deliver key messaging, and encourage loyalty by driving authority and trust in the business. In Lauren's case, here are some of what she added to the Scribe's style guide:

  • Whether headings should be in title or sentence case.
  • How to address readers and what you shouldn't say/slang that shouldn't be used.
  • The end goal/result of each article written.
  • The tone/type of humor to be injected in Scribe's articles.
  • The format of footnotes and in-text references.
  • The style and punctuation of bullet lists.
  • The correct spelling and usage of technical terms relevant to Scribe's industry or its target audience.
  • Whether particular acronyms or abbreviated terms need to be spelled out in full when first mentioned (for example, SOP, COLA, ESO, MOP, etc.).

Inability to repurpose existing documentation

Many teams are guilty of having several documents or information stored in various channels. With Scribe, you don’t need to build your entire internal documentation from scratch since you probably have existing content filed in different places. Scribe allows you to easily repurpose that content (and categorized) into one central hub to make it easier to access.

Lack of images & other visually appealing medium

Research has found that 65 percent of people are visual learners, meaning they need to see information in order to retain it. Additionally, studies discovered that the brain can process images and videos 60,000 times faster than text; hence, making visually appealing information more reliable and valuable.

Don't be surprised if your employees dread reading your internal documentation because of the seemingly large chunks of text. Spice it up! Using images, videos, GIFs, emojis, screen recordings, screenshots, diagrams, charts, and other media can make your content more appealing and useful.

For example, when documenting a certain process, you could include images or a video documenting the process. 

Instead of copying and pasting texts or screenshots, Scribe instantly turns any process into a step-by-step guide. Simply turn on the Scribe recorder and create your process document in seconds! — reducing the time you and your teams spend creating documentation by 93 percent.

Lack of edits & customization

Are you or your team struggling with adding more details or redacting information for privacy and security reasons? Look no further, Scribe allows you to edit screenshots, redact sensitive information (to ensure document security and safety), and add text, annotations and custom branding.


Lack of sharing options

Gone are the days when sharing your internal documentation felt like rocket science.

Share your process guide with one click, anywhere: 

  • Copy into a document with HTML or Markdown.
  • Send to teammates or clients with a URL link.
  • Export as PDF document.
  • Embed in existing tools and wikis.
  • Export to Confluence.

Conclusion

Creating internal documentation involves investing time into creating content. However, that investment will be worth it when you’re able to preserve and share knowledge, improve productivity, and more efficiently onboard new employees.

Set up your internal content documentation hub today with Scribe (it's free🥳)and you’ll see benefits in no time.