When learning how to document business processes, it is easy to be overwhelmed by information. Here, we distill it all into a few key points to get you started.
What Is Business Process Documentation?
Business process documentation is the connective tissue of your operation. It is the comprehensive, step-by-step record of the vital processes that make your business run. Like any documentation, it is intended to be updated as your organization grows and changes.
Business process documentation creates references for trainees, employees, leadership, stakeholders, and auditors to learn about your company. Although it’s primarily used as an organizational tool in day-to-day operations, it is also a mark of what you have done in the past and a jumping-off point for improvement.
What Are the Benefits of Business Process Documentation?
The benefits of documenting business processes cannot be overstated. Better said, the price of skimping on it is steep. It improves efficiency, cost efficacy, and morale. It provides structure. It is a resource for all members of your organization.
Once written, it becomes a living document that people can change or contribute to. If aspects of a process or its documentation fall short, they can be modified. Over time, as your documentation improves, your processes will become more streamlined.
Business process documentation is also necessary for passing on knowledge. When employees leave, they will need a repository for the information they safeguarded. The onboarding process—which itself should also be documented—can then phase in knowledge from ex-employees.
What Are Examples of Business Process Documents?
Business process documentation covers many subjects and is expressed in many multimedia formats. Information can be communicated via flow chart or numbered list. Processes appear across the organization, from the finance department to the security team. Below are just a few business process document examples:
- Performance reviews
- Quality control checklists
- Onboarding checklists
- Training video tutorials
- Incident response plans
- Audit and inspection checklists
- Physical and cybersecurity procedures
- Software documentation
- Case studies
- Media publishing procedures
- Supply chain processes
- Quick-reference flowcharts and diagrams
- Marketing procedures
- HR protocols
- Accounting and bookkeeping procedures
- Project management procedures
How to Document Business Processes
Let it never be said that documenting business processes is easy. Because it affects so many people—past and present—it needs to be accessible and useful for a range of readers and be updated to reflect their changing environment.
Every process requires different methods of examination and documentation. Software documentation involves coding, quick-reference guides are light on words, and inspection checklists must adhere to relevant regulatory bodies. A specialized technical writer will be able to address the specific needs of the documentation they are assigned. In the meantime, businesses should familiarize themselves with the following business process documentation writing outline:
Pick a Process to Document
Determine what process needs documenting. If you notice you or your employees have to start from scratch, improvise, or ask for help every time they perform a task, it needs to be written down.
Set the Boundaries of Your Process
Define the scope and limitations. To start, consider:
- When and where does the process take place? An onboarding plan, for instance, may run for two weeks, with periodic check-ins during the following month. It may take place in the office—in person—or in the form of training modules on a shared drive.
- Who are the stakeholders involved in this project? Identify your sponsors, departmental leaders, proprietors, and consumers.
- How important is it that a process is completed? What are the consequences of delays and failures? If a database security step is missed, your company will need manual fail safes, data recovery options, data protection plans, and so on.
- What does the process require? An effective customer service team may require automated emails, chatbots, an FAQ page, and an online manual, in addition to the requisite personnel. The time, money, skills, and materials needed to produce these features will vary.
- What will the process yield? A social media workflow procedure will need to yield a certain amount of content, engagement, and increase in website traffic.
- Who will read the document? Any documentation worth its salt will be written with a clear view of its audience in mind. The audience affects the language used, the document design, and the information included.
Include a Progress-Tracking System
In order to measure the success of your process, you need to incorporate a progress-tracking system into your documentation. Such a system may entail meetings, reviews, and more documentation. Some processes suit specialized progress trackers. Onboarding process documentation, for instance, can benefit from staggered knowledge tests or graded modules.
Brainstorm as a Group
The scope of your process will define its goals and boundaries. The brainstorming phase is where you begin filling out those goals and boundaries into a plan.
With a team of relevant employees at multiple hierarchical levels, lay out all the steps of your process. At each step, consider who will do what task, what information that person(s) will need to succeed, and what visual aids would be necessary to communicate the information effectively.
Write the First Draft
At this stage, you should decide how to organize the document. If the process is short and simple or the document is a zoomed-out representation of a large, complicated process, a flowchart might suit your process best. If the process is heavy on visual cues like navigating interfaces or a physical space, include diagrams, maps, and tutorials. For an in-depth breakdown of a complex process, designate subsections and make sure key pieces stand out. Aim for clarity and precision, but prioritize exhaustivity above all else. You can always cut down the text in the editing phase.
Sometimes business process documents are written in real-time: as the process is being performed by the person who typically performs it. This kind of observational writing prevents authors from missing steps and allows the performer to highlight insider tips.
Edit With Input From All Members of Your Team
A text is 20 percent writing and 80 percent refining. You, your team members, stakeholders, and your technical writer should appraise the document for:
- Linguistic clarity: The document’s phrasing should be crystal clear. Keep sentences simple and accessible, and the register appropriate for your audience. Knowledge transfer resources have little room for ambiguity.
- Organizational clarity: The sections, paragraphs, chronology, logic, labeling, and relationships between images and text should be clear as well.
- Consistency: The formatting and language should be consistent not only throughout the document in question but across all company documentation. Consistent headers, fonts, logos, etc. are an indispensable part of professionalism.
- Redundancy: When describing complex processes, overlapping and over-explained steps are bound to crop up. While editing, make sure to cut out any unnecessary pieces.
- Systemic optimization: Sometimes recording a process reveals how dysfunctional it has been. Review your document to make sure that no person or system is being overloaded or underutilized, and take note of what parts of a process can be improved in the long term.
- Supplementary features: Add a key, glossary, images, links, or any other elements that would make your business process documentation more useful.
Test and Update
Run your business process documentation by the employees who will be using it. What sections do they gravitate toward? What do they find confusing? Update your document accordingly and continue encouraging feedback as employees keep using it. Periodically review all your documentation to make sure it’s up to date with the development of your organization.
What Business Process Documentation Tools Streamline Writing?
Businesses and technical writers primarily use authoring tools to build technical documentation from scratch.
However, a business process documentation template is always an option if you want guidance. Universities, governments, and other authoritative sources often offer templates on their websites. Here are a few examples:
- Workplace Inspection Checklist from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry
- Cybersecurity documentation template from SANS, the world’s leading cybersecurity research and training authority
- Employee onboarding checklists from Valamis, a SaaS
The best business process documentation tool will always be a technical writer. They can build custom templates for your company with consistent formatting, structuring, and branding.
What Can EDC Do for You?
If you’d like to learn more about process documentation and what it can do for you, check out some of our other content below:
- What is a Process Document?
- Difference Between Process Documentation and Procedural Documentation
- Procedural Documentation: Policies, Procedures, and Processes
Whether you need a single technical writer for a brief project or a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation, the quality of our work is guaranteed for you. Our clients work closely with an Engagement Manager from one of our 30 local offices for the entire length of your project at no additional cost. Contact us at (800) 221-0093 or email@example.com to get started.