This is the second part of a two-part series on process documentation with Vinay Patankar, CEO of Process Street. In case you’re just tuning in, we recommend you read part one Why Documenting Your Processes is Key to Surviving as Remote Business first.
Now that you’ve learned the ins and outs of why process documentation is important to any smooth-running business, today we’re moving onto the next step. Before diving into the two easiest ways to document processes, I’ll go over the five golden rules for writing them.
Let’s get started.
The two easiest ways to document processes
In the last instalment, I told you that process documentation was simple, easy to do, and incredibly important for remote business survival. All that’s left is to prove how easy it is.
Before we dive into the details, here are five best practices to remember.
The five golden rules for how to write process documentation
Rule #1: Include detail
Your process needs to produce the same outcome every time it’s followed, regardless of who’s following it. When describing each part of the process, be detailed so that anyone can pick it up and follow it. You can test this with your current fully distributed team—make sure someone in Dublin can do it just as well as somebody in San Diego.
Rule #2: Keep it simple
Make sure your documentation processes are clear, simple, and easy to understand.
Rule #3: Make it accessible
If you’re a distributed company, it’s crucial to keep your process documentation in one central place. Make sure that everyone in the business has access to it at all times.
Rule #4: Make it easy to update
Regularly review processes to look for improvements or pinpoint costly inefficiencies. Make sure it’s easy to update them.
Rule #5: Start now
Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.
“Just get it done. Do it now. If you don’t know where to begin, just grab a pen and paper, and start writing down a process. Just start with one.”
How to document priority processes rapidly for smaller teams
Step 1. Pick a process
Sounds easy enough, but where to start?
“Pick the process you use the most as this is where you’ll get the most cumulative benefits, and start with that.”
Repetitive tasks give you the opportunity to create efficiencies and improve quality.
Here are 3 tips
- Choose an important process related to your business goals
- Make sure it’s recurring
- Ensure that many will do this process, multiplying the benefits
Recording time spent on a job or project is a great example of a process that can be improved. It’s a repetitive daily task, it’s done by the whole team, and it’s important to the business as it provides productivity and performance data.
Step 2. Write it down
Write down—or ask those who currently use the process to write down—each step of the process. Type it up, write it down, use a process documentation tool, or even work through the process while recording on a desktop/browser.
Writing out each step will highlight how the process is currently being used and will give you an instant snapshot into potential flaws.
In our example, you might learn why your team is reluctant to fill their timesheets in. Removing unnecessary steps, or even investing in a timesheet tool, could take a complicated process and turn it into a streamlined one.
Step 3. Follow it
Yes. It really is as simple as that! Remember, though, to always keep looking for ways to improve your process.
“Don’t let it gather dust. Each time you run it, look for ways to improve it. As you continue to iterate your processes over time, that’s really when they become more valuable. If you go look at enterprise companies, their processes are some of their most valuable pieces of IP because they’ve been so refined over so many thousands of customers or years.”
If you have more time and resources, below is a slightly longer method for documenting processes.
How to document processes and SOPs with more time and resources
Step 1. Choose your process documentation tool
Before you start documenting your processes, you need to decide how you’re going to do it. Document authoring platforms like Google Docs, knowledge management systems like Tettra, or business process management (BPM) tools like Process Street are three examples.
Step 2. Identify and name the process
Start with a frequently used process. Documenting standard operating procedures (SOPs) is a great example of a process that’s used daily and is incredibly important to the business. Name it, and provide a brief description of the overall process.
Step 3. Set boundaries
Define where it begins and ends, and establish what causes it to start and how you’ll know it’s done. Talk to the people who run the process now. Ask them to document their steps or record themselves running through the process on their desktop or browser.
Ask key questions like:
- When does it start?
- When does it stop?
- Who will follow it?
- Who will be responsible for it?
- When will it be followed?
- What parts can be automated?
- How often will it be run?
Step 4. Confirm expected results
Then, you need to decide what you want the process to produce or achieve once completed. What’s the end result you’re aiming for?
If you’re looking at the process of recording time, you might want to improve the accuracy of time recording, or you might want to simply increase the number of people that fill in their timesheets.
Step 5. Identify the process steps
Starting with what triggers the process, brainstorm what tasks and actions to include for it to achieve the desired results.
Don’t worry about the order of these steps yet; just focus on gathering information.
Step 6. Organize the process
Take all of the possible process steps, and put them into sequential order. Use a process flowchart or simply list out the steps in a list.
Step 7. Review the process
Gather together everyone involved in documenting the process so far. Review the process as a group and ask questions like; Are there missing steps? Is everything in the right order? Would it make sense to a newcomer? Are any steps unnecessary? Use this feedback to tweak the process.
You might establish that the existing process of filling in timesheets is taking too long; there are too many steps, and people don’t have the time to do it every day. From there, you might remove steps, impose new regulations around how often timesheets should be completed, or integrate a time tracking tool to make the process quick and easy.
Step 8. Test the process
This final step is by far the most important one, especially for a remote team. Ask an employee who hasn’t been involved in the documentation process to read the process documentation and successfully execute it. If they can do this without issue, it’s passed the test. If they can’t, take it back to the drawing board to improve the process.
And that’s it. The long and the short of it.
With the right process, mindset, and business process management software in place, your team will complete tasks to a consistently high standard.
“You’ll completely remove any inefficiencies and bottlenecks, you will save heaps of time and money on training employees, and most importantly, your remote business will not only survive—it will thrive.”
Photo from Management Matters Network and Christin Hume on Unsplash