Whether you’re managing one or multiple teams, there's a high chance your teammates depend on each other. With effective workflow documentation, you can:
- Ramp up employees faster.
- Cut down on (often costly) mistakes.
- Delegate and upskill more employees.
- Get more done—with way less burnout.
Let's talk about documenting workflows, how to avoid common mistakes and best practices for workflow documentation that you can steal today.
Here's how to get started.
TL;DR: Workflow documentation
- Workflow documentation is essential for optimizing processes and improving business efficiency.
- Documenting workflows helps with training and onboarding, process improvement, knowledge retention, and risk mitigation.
- To create workflow documentation, identify the workflow, map the process, define roles and responsibilities, and choose the appropriate format.
- Avoid these common mistakes: Not spending enough time on research, being too complex, not training employees and not using the right software.
What is a workflow?
Workflow refers to the sequence of tasks or activities that must be completed to achieve a specific goal or outcome. It helps to streamline processes, improve efficiency, and ensure that work is completed in a systematic manner.
The 5 steps of workflow typically include:
- Capture: Gathering necessary information and inputs to initiate the workflow.
- Process: Analyzing the data, evaluating your options and deciding how to proceed.
- Execute: Carrying out tasks, implementing projects, and taking actions to achieve your desired outcome.
- Monitor: Tracking the progress of the work, ensuring that it is on track, and identifying any issues or bottlenecks.
- Evaluate: Assessing the outcome of the work, measuring its success against predefined goals or KPIs, and identifying areas for improvement.
What is workflow documentation?
Workflow documentation refers to documenting the steps, activities and interactions involved in a specific workflow or business process. It should include clear and concise instructions on completing each task, who is responsible for each step and when it should be completed.
Simply put, documenting workflows is essential to improving business processes and enhancing efficiency, productivity and collaboration.
How to create workflow documentation
Looking to document your organization’s workflow effectively? Use the following steps below as a resource:
1. Identify the workflow
Determine which workflow or process you want to document by clearly defining its scope and objectives. This could be a specific task, departmental or end-to-end business process.
2. Map the process
Visualize the workflow by creating a flowchart or workflow diagram. This helps to understand the sequence of steps, decision points, branching paths, dependencies between steps, and interactions between different tasks or departments.
Make sure you identify the team members involved in the workflow, including those who execute the tasks and those who oversee or provide input at various stages.
3. Collect the required data
The next step is to collect as much data as possible 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, you’ll need to connect with experts and internal stakeholders to collect qualitative data to get more information.
You can ask them questions based on your requirements and use them when drafting your workflow documentation.
4. Define roles and responsibilities
Clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of the individuals or teams involved in the workflow. Specify who is responsible for each step, the subject matter experts, who needs to be consulted or informed and any escalation paths if issues or delays occur. This clarifies accountability and promotes effective collaboration.
5. Document each step of the process
Use pre-built customizable templates like Scribe's Workflow Template to save time and standardize your documentation.
Capture each step in the workflow, providing detailed information. Show what needs to be done, who is responsible for the task and any inputs or outputs associated with that step.
Include any rules, guidelines or instructions relevant to completing the step successfully.
7. Capture decision points
Identify any decision points or conditional branches within the workflow.
For instance, if the workflow includes decision points or conditional branches, you should document the criteria or rules determining the path to follow. Clearly state the conditions that trigger each decision and the subsequent actions or steps based on those decisions.
8. Include process variations
Consider different scenarios or variations that may occur within the workflow. Document each situation's necessary steps or adjustments to ensure a smooth workflow.
9. Identify relevant tools and resources
Identify any tools, software, equipment, or resources required to complete each workflow step. Include specific instructions on using the tools effectively or accessing the resources required. This information helps ensure consistency and accuracy in executing the workflow.
10. Include supporting documentation
Add any relevant supporting materials, like templates, forms, checklists, quick reference guides, or standard operating procedures (SOPs). Provide links or references to these materials for easy access.
11. Include timeframes and deadlines
Include estimated timelines or deadlines for completing each step or task within the workflow. This provides a timeline for reference and helps manage expectations.
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 implemented, 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.
13. Distribute and maintain
Once your 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.
14. Promote adoption and training
Share the workflow documentation with the appropriate teams or individuals. Provide training or onboarding sessions to ensure everyone understands how to use the documentation effectively.
15. Encourage feedback
Encourage feedback and suggestions for continuous improvement. Regularly review and update the documentation to reflect any workflow or organizational requirements changes.
Benefits of workflow documentation
Documenting workflows offers businesses and professionals the following benefits:
- Clarity and understanding: Outlines tasks, roles, responsibilities, and inputs and outputs at each stage.
- Effective communication and collaboration: Improves coordination and teamwork cohesion.
- Consistency and standardization: Ensures consistent work performance and reduces errors and variations.
- Training and onboarding: Helps new employees understand their roles and responsibilities.
- Process improvement: Identifies inefficiencies and areas for optimization.
- Knowledge retention and transfer: Captures and preserves valuable knowledge and expertise.
- Risk mitigation and compliance: Facilitates adherence to standards and ensures compliance.
- Business continuity: Minimizes the risk of workflow disruptions.
- Enhances improvement: Enables tracking of performance metrics and implementation of changes.
- Adaptability: Allows for adapting workflows to changing business needs.
Workflow documentation examples + templates
Here's a workflow example of an employee onboarding process, with templates you can use to create documentation.
Title: Employee onboarding process workflows
- To ensure a smooth and consistent onboarding experience for new employees.
- Accelerate productivity.
- Facilitate cultural integration.
- Retain new hires.
- Identify learning and development needs.
Step 1: New employee hiring
- HR receives a new employee request from the hiring manager.
- HR reviews the request and prepares the necessary documentation, including the employment contract and offer letter.
- HR sends the offer letter to the candidate and coordinates the signing process.
- Once the offer is accepted, HR notifies the relevant departments of the new hire.
Step 2: Pre-onboarding
- HR sends the new employee an onboarding package containing the necessary forms, policies and documents.
- The new employee fills out and returns the required forms, such as tax forms and emergency contact information.
- HR schedules a pre-boarding meeting with the new employee to provide an overview of the onboarding process and answer any initial questions.
Step 3: IT setup and access
- The IT department receives a notification from HR about the new hire.
- IT sets up the employee's computer, email and network access.
- IT provides necessary login credentials and ensures the employee has access to the required software and systems.
Step 4: Departmental onboarding
- The employee's direct supervisor or department representative conducts an orientation meeting to introduce the employee to the team, department and work expectations.
- The supervisor provides an overview of the employee's role, responsibilities and goals.
- The employee is given access to relevant departmental resources, such as shared drives or project management tools.
Step 5: Training and development
- HR or the supervisor arranges for necessary training sessions and provides access to relevant training materials.
- The employee undergoes any mandatory training programs, such as safety or compliance training.
- The supervisor identifies specific skill or knowledge gaps and arranges for additional training or mentorship as needed.
Step 6: Employee development and integration
- HR or the supervisor checks in regularly with the new employee to address any questions, concerns, or challenges.
- Employees are encouraged to participate in team activities and development to foster integration and engagement.
- HR conducts a post-onboarding survey to gather employee feedback and identify improvement areas.
Workflow documentation best practices
Here are some tips and best practices to consider when creating your next workflow documentation:
- Clearly define the purpose and scope of the workflow documentation.
- Use clear and concise language, avoiding jargon and technical terms.
- Include visuals and workflow diagrams to enhance understanding.
- Structure your content in a logical and easy-to-follow manner.
- Specify the roles and responsibilities of individuals involved in the workflow.
- Capture variations and exceptions and provide clear instructions on how to handle them.
- Store and distribute your documentation in a centralized and easily accessible location.
- Regularly update and maintain your documentation to reflect changes in the process.
- Ask for feedback from stakeholders to validate the accuracy and usability of the documentation.
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. They're the foundation your documentation will stand on.
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 perfecting your content; stick with it if you find something that works.
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 your organization.
4. Not using the right software
Workflow automation software enables easy collaboration, scalability, and process management with features like real-time document editing and customization options. Using the right software helps you automate tasks and make your processes scalable.
You'll lose more time and resources if you act too quickly and choose the wrong software for your business. Because instead of getting things done, you’ll be busy figuring out the software.
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?"So how does it work?
1. Capture: Click "Start Capture," go through your workflow as usual, and Scribe auto-generates a step-by-step guide in seconds.
2. Customize: Annotate screenshots, adjust steps and add text. With Scribe Pages, you can combine multiple workflows into a single document and add videos, images, GIFs and more.
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.
With Scribe, you can create detailed, visual guides that you can edit, combine and duplicate in minutes.
Documenting workflows the right way!
Documenting workflows 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.
Using these templates and step-by-step guidance, you can easily create workflow documentation, optimize processes, and use them to encourage team creativity and innovation.
Scribe can help you optimize workflow processes by providing customized and accurate documentation. And, by adding (dare we say, gorgeous) tools like Scribe into your workflow documentation, you can increase your process documentation time by 15x! Improve your operations and try Scribe for free today.