Only two percent of organizations have all their internal processes modeled and documented. Apparently, the other 98 percent don't want to enjoy the benefits of process standardization.
… Or they don’t know how to create process documentation that sticks. If that’s the case for you, we’re here to help.
We’ve highlighted some of the most significant benefits of sharing step-by-step instructions within an organization and suggested a simple but actionable strategy for building and adopting ones.
How step-by-step guides affect your business
Why spend hours documenting the process when you can explain it in person in 5 minutes?
Step-by-step guides form a strong base for successful business operations. They standardize internal processes by outlining the key steps employees should take to reach the desired objective.
These are some tangible benefits of creating easy-to-follow how-to guides for your teams:
- Time savings. Employees spend 20 percent of the workweek looking for help with specific tasks. Having how-to guides at hand would help to spend this time more productively.
- Improved collaboration. Fifty-four percent of respondents consider improved employee collaboration the biggest benefit of digital documentation.
- Money savings. Enterprises waste from $2.5 to $3.5 million per year as a result of the lack of knowledge sharing. Process documentation is one of the most effective ways to transfer institutional knowledge and address the knowledge-sharing problem.
- Better onboarding experience. Ready-to-use step-by-step guides save people managers’ time and introduce new employees to the information they need to do their work successfully.
- Faster project delivery. The average employee spends approximately five hours a week waiting for assistance from colleagues. Unshared knowledge forces employees to spend time recreating their coworkers’ existing expertise or just delay the work in question. All of these result in project delays which can be eliminated with process standardization.
- Increased employee engagement. The studies prove that knowledge sharing affects employee engagement. Indeed, 81 percent of employees feel frustrated when they can't access the information they need to do their job. With clear instructions available on demand, employees not only spend less time searching for the necessary information but feel empowered to be proactive at work.
- Human error prevention. Failure to follow proper procedures is a major reason for human errors in organizations, making up 45 percent of total errors. This way, by creating and distributing how-to guides outlining the key business processes, you can prevent up to 45 percent of errors caused by the improper procedure.
Discoverability features of an effective step-by-step guide
What makes an effective how-to guide? Not so many things, actually. And that’s why you need to make sure each of these components is present in your guide.
First, you need to create a system allowing your teammates to easily find the relevant how-to guide in minutes, not hours.
Ideally, it should be a centralized knowledge base where all employees can find the answers to their questions. But if your organization hasn’t implemented a company-wide resource library yet, you can create a team wiki inside your collaboration tool, like Notion or Guru.
To make your guides easily accessible, follow these practices:
- Build new guides inside one system;
- Create and follow a naming convention;
- Label guides based on the topics;
- Group guides into clusters;
- Link to the guides within collaboration platforms whenever possible.
When you’ve created a new file inside your internal wiki and named it properly, it’s time to get started with the content.
The first element in any step-by-step guide should be the context. Providing context helps the end audience to understand why things should be done exactly this way. There’s no need to write long intros and get too much into detail – one or two sentences will suffice.
A well-structured guide is also easier to navigate and apply the information provided.
As you proceed with the explanation of the process, you need to establish a clear content structure. A wall of text won’t work. An easy-to-follow guide is split into sections and steps, backed by screenshots and GIFs.
Each stage should be labeled with a heading and include no more than a few sentences. The less plain text you use, the easier it is to process the information and follow the process.
The purpose of any how-to guide is to enable readers to reproduce it right away.
Including visuals and referring to real use cases will make your guide actionable. Link to all the helpful resources right in the content – don’t make people leave it and look elsewhere.
All how-to guides should be created by subject matter experts. If you involve junior specialists in the process, always check the resulting content to ensure the accuracy of the information provided.
A good how-to guide is NOT set in stone. Teammates should be able to interact directly in the file if they have any questions or suggestions. Don’t make people create another Slack thread to discuss the process. Enable collaboration or at least commenting on your how-to guides.
Your organization develops constantly (hopefully). It’s very likely that the process you’ve introduced initially undergoes a lot of changes throughout the year. Therefore, it’s critical that your team members update the guide whenever its content gets outdated. To make it possible, everyone involved should have access to editing the knowledge base resources.
Step-by-step guide templates
We’ve already stressed the importance of standardizing every repeatable process. The process of creating how-to guides is no exception. It’s best to have step-by-step guide templates that you can reuse every time you need to outline a certain process.
Here's a step-by-step guide template that you can get started using, today!
And check out the Scribe Template Gallery to choose from our complete list of free and easy-to-use templates.
Scribe is the new way to document and share how-to. All you have to do is click on the extension or desktop app. In seconds, Scribe turns your process into a visual guide with written steps and annotated screenshots.
Want to see it in action? Here's a Scribe on how to create a new channel in Slack. It only took Meg from our team 29 seconds to make!
You can edit, share or embed a Scribe in any knowledge base. And if you have several tasks for one process? Make as many Scribes as you need, then put them all together in a larger process doc. Our newest feature, Pages, lets you do just that. Add in your Scribes along with text, video and more.
Here's a Scribe Page all about getting started with Slack. it includes several Scribes, including the one we mentioned above!
You can develop and share your Scribes to build out your SOP program or save them as step-by-step guide templates to build customized manuals. Here's how Jeff Cypher from ZenPilot put Scribe into action!
How to standardize any process with step-by-step guides
Here’s how you transform standard operating procedures into actionable step-by-step guides.
Identify the problem(s)
When you get to process standardization, you don’t reinvent the wheel. You just need to document steps you’ve been taking regularly for a long (or not so long) time. But before you do it, you should also define which processes should be documented in the first place.
Talk to the team and the leaders to learn about their day-to-day activities. Start with identifying generic topics (e.g. sales prospecting) and then get more specific (e.g. sales prospecting on LinkedIn). Generic topics will form clusters whole more specific processes will be outlined in separate guides under those clusters.
Define the audience
Is the future guide more of an onboarding resource, or should it help senior employees to address roadblocks? Is it intended for one specific team, or will it be used by the entire company?
The answers will indicate whether you need to explain the terminology, introduce readers to the tools, and provide a wider context. Knowing in advance which personas will use your guide helps to speak their language without overcomplicating or oversimplifying things.
Automating the process documentation process not only allows you to save precious time but also reduces the possibility of spreading inaccurate information. It’s easy to miss some critical information when you deal with complex, multi-step processes. Tools, like Scribe, will automatically create visual step-by-step guides while you carry out the processes that you want to capture.
Outline the steps
If you choose to create how-to guides manually or need to document the process that can’t be captured automatically (for instance, you might want to share a guide to cold calling), you should draft the key steps of the process first.
You can order the steps later – the most important task at this point is to define the milestones to hit along the way.
Write up the guide
Now when you have drafted a structure, you can order the steps, add subheadings, and support the process document with visuals. Having the written steps outlined first will help you greatly to decide which visual components your guide needs.
In case you use software, it’s also a moment when you can adjust the guide that has been automatically generated. Add tips and notes enabling readers to perform the process more effectively and troubleshoot if necessary.
You don’t need to add much copy, just make sure you include enough illustrations supporting the points you make.
Once you’ve started to build process documentation, you’re never done with it. If you fail to update the guides as you develop new processes or update the existing ones, you’ll end up with a collection of manuals nobody uses.
To keep your how-to guides up to date, allocate some time monthly or quarterly to check in and make adjustments.
Step-by-step guide: FAQ
1. What exactly is a step-by-step guide?
There are several different ways to show how something's done. We've seen mind-maps, checklists, flowcharts — you name it. But if you really want to know:
- Exactly what to do.
- When to do it.
- How to get it done.
... then you're asking for a step-by-step guide.
A step-by-step guide is just that: a list of written instructions guiding you from start to finish. Think of it as the bread and butter of process documentation. It supports practically any context you can think of — from onboarding to training to answering questions from your grumbling colleague in the next cubicle (we've all been there).
A step-by-step guide can be as simple as bullet list instructions or as complex as a fully-fledged SOP (check out our SOP templates here).
2. What are the features of a step-by-step guide?
We're all very proud of your vocabulary, but we can save it for the next dissertation. A step-by-step guide only works if it's accessible. A huge part of that accessibility is writing in clear, concise terms. A general rule I like to use is: if there's room to cut a word, cut it. If there's an easier way to say it, say it that way.
Consistency is also a factor here. Once you introduce a term, stick to it throughout the guide. For example, if you're referring to Webflow as a CMS, don't later call it "the website-building platform."
There are usually several ways to describe a single thing. But for a useful how-to guide, you can count on one.
Scribe top tip: If you absolutely have to use tough terms, add a glossary at the very end of your guide, or define the word the first time you introduce it!
Written in order
I've seen process docs go all around the map (literally). Sometimes you need a more abstract look at things. But step-by-step guides should be as tactical and literal as possible. Step one should lead into step two, step two should lead to three and... you get the idea!
If you have a larger project with a bunch of smaller steps in between, I recommend breaking down everything into major tasks and minor subtasks. You can also create a larger process doc made up of a bunch of smaller guides. Just make sure you're listing it all from the beginning through the very end.
Images or illustrations
This obviously depends on how complicated the task is, but for the most part, pictures are a must. Think of every instruction manual you've ever seen or the last time you asked Google "how do I...?"
Reading how something is done is way less effective than seeing it in action. If you're taking screenshots, make sure to make them as specific as possible. Include arrows, highlights and other annotations.
Use a screenshot Chrome extension like Scribe to cut your time in half.
Be as detailed (and literal) as possible. When we know something well, it's easy to make assumptions. Don't just give a general run-through. Really break down each and every step.
For example, if you're showing someone how to use a new platform, start from the login. And don't just say "log in to your account." Tell them where to click, and if they need to create a new password. And once they're on their dashboard, make sure to tell them where to go next.
Keep your audience in mind. Are you writing for a roomful of experts? Or maybe you're making a super basic user guide. Try to avoid jargon unless you're one hundred percent sure your reader knows what it means. We all love a good acronym, but if you're referencing your CSM in the CMS with the ROI in the LMNOP, let's just say things can get confusing fast.
Make the step-by-step guide template stick
When a how-to guide is published, adoption starts. You don’t expect your team members to fully switch to self-service materials immediately, do you? If they’re used to improvising or turning to colleagues to source the necessary information, it’ll take effort to fully adopt on-demand guides.
You can make your new step-by-step guides stick by following these practices:
- Announce new guides through internal communication channels, like email or Slack;
- Link to the resource library from your internal communication and collaboration platforms;
- Highlight new guides and process updates inside the internal knowledge base;
- Use bots capturing the changes in the knowledge base and sending the updates via your chosen communication platform;
- Enable collaboration on your how-to guides.
Remember that the launch is only the beginning. Step-by-step guides are living documents that should evolve with your processes.
Luckily, tools like Scribe make your guides as easy to update as they are to make. Simply click "Edit" to change a step, update the text or change out screenshots.
Ready to create your own gorgeous guide — fast? Get started with Scribe today. It's absolutely free!