Documenting A Process: The Advanced Guide
If you’re looking for a better method for documenting a process for your business then you’re in the right place!
Just about every business or organization runs on policies, processes and procedures.
In fact, I think it’s universal. I can’t really think of a business of substantial size that runs without them.
I can think of a few small businesses that do. You probably know a few as well especially if you’re in the business world.
The telltale sign will be disorganization. I struggled with this as a freelancer. It was difficult to bring others into the business. It was hard to give up control, but even more than that was the issue or not having processes for others to follow.
I had everything in my head, but it doesn’t do much good there if you want to grow a company.
So here is the procedure to use when documenting a process.
Step 1. Identify The Task
The first step in documenting a process is identifying the task.
This really applies to you if you’re an entrepreneur (solopreneur) and if you’re a manager as well. The reason I add manager in that is that you probably have a few frustrations managing people that can be alleviated with processes.
Step back for a moment and take note of your usual day and week.
What is something you do repeatedly that takes up time?
The key is the repetition.
Just about anything that is repetitive can be documented
Once documented, you can look for ways to improve the process if you still are the one to complete the task or you can use the process and procedure to have someone else complete and repeat the task (while also looking for efficiencies, but more on that later…).
Step 2. Track Every Step
Do you have a task in mind?
I’ve been doing this for a few years in my business and I still have tasks that I need to document. So I’m going through this same process along with you…
Tracking every step is next and it can be tedious. In fact, it will be tedious. You’ll wonder why you’re doing it, but it’s necessary.
Maybe we should backup and note that you need to plan for extra time to document a process.
Let’s say that you’re documenting how to respond to a specific type of email that you get all the time. A common question from clients.
Normally it might take you five minutes to respond to the email. You read it. You do a little digging to gather info and you respond.
Pretty straightforward. Pretty quick.
Except now you’re documenting the process so you need to include the details about every little step.
Imagine that someone who doesn’t know anything about your business is going to take these steps to complete the task just as well as you would.
That’s the level of detail needed.
After a couple times that person will get the hang of it, but the steps are important because people come and go and you’ll need the steps so they can follow along.
With those steps documented, you’ve just created the procedure.
A procedure is the detailed list of steps that someone takes to complete a task.
Your procedure might begin as text on a page. That’s a great start.
But it’s usually good to add things like screenshots if the task involves a computer or smartphone or other device.
Photos are good if they help. Videos can be extremely helpful.
Don’t leave anything out when creating the procedure. It’s better to have too much detail than too little.
Step 3. Set The Boundaries
Now comes the Policy part of this exercise.
The Policy is where you set the rules or the boundaries for the task. And really, you’re looking at your overall business when you’re creating the process.
For example, let’s go back to the task of responding to a client email. A boundary would be to always use polite language. No blaming. No inflammatory language.
Boundaries or rules usually apply across many tasks. Policies in business are often similar or the same as values or core values. They are the center of decision making and allow any decision maker, including the person responding to a customer email, the ability to perform a task without needing to ask someone for input.
The reason I put this as Step 3 is that you’re probably already doing multiple tasks. I think it’s helpful to document your tasks and then look at the policy of your company.
You should see recurring themes throughout the processes you complete. In our example, you’ll see that politeness and kindness are things you do in multiple activities.
Step 4. Answering The “Whys”
I don’t know many people that will do a task without wondering why they’re doing a task.
This is an area where documenting a business process can get tricky. It’s often overlooked and the result is that the process won’t be completed or won’t be completed as expected.
You probably know why a task exists, but you might surprise yourself. I’ve kind of stumbled on this when documenting processes. I’ve had the moment where I ask myself, “Why am I doing this task every day?”…
For each process you create you want to understand the why. Then for each process you want to communicate and include the why so the person knows the motivation behind their effort.
Your company or organization may have an overarching why for tasks.
For example, the goal of any business is to earn profit. That’s an overarching why.
But within each task there will be more whys.
You’re answering the client email because you want to make profit, yes, but on a smaller level you’re answering it to make sure the customer is satisfied with their product or service. You’re answering it so that a problem or bigger problem doesn’t arise. You’re doing it so you don’t create more work for yourself later.
You might be thinking that this step isn’t necessary.
Employees are paid to do a job.
That’s true, but more studies are coming out finding that people are placing more importance on passion and making a difference than on money.
Step 5. Defining The Expectations
Every process should have expectations for performance. You want to know what the end result should be
Let’s take the email to the customer…
The expected outcome might be to receive a thank you from the customer. Case closed.
There could be a few additional steps added if the first email doesn’t do the trick. You’ll have to add additional steps if this is common. For example, if the client has a question you’ll have to provide instructions for responding.
But there should be an eventual expectation. Reach a certain point or points once the process is complete.
Without expectations, the person performing the task won’t fully know if they’ve done what should be done.
If you have a problem with an employee not following processes it’s often a problem with expectation or with the way you created the process (not being detailed enough).
Step 6. Identifying Issues
Now we’re adding more time to your effort to create a process.
But it’s worth it. When others can do tasks in your business it allows your business to grow. You only have so much energy to give each day. That limits your growth.
So stick with this process…
Now that you’ve created a process for a task you want to go back and complete the task following your instructions.
This is tricky because you can probably do the process in your sleep. But you want to check things. You want to go through it as if you’re doing it for the first time.
This will allow you to see potential issues.
The next step beyond this will be having others complete the task. If hangups arise don’t blame the employee. Look at the process to see if there are issues.
A smart thing to do here that I’ve read is to have two people complete the task. If both have hangups then you’ll know it’s a process issue.
But even if one gets it right and one gets it wrong still look at the process first for issues.
Final Thought: Improvements
Something you want to add to processes in your company is the ability for those completing the tasks to make and document improvements.
When someone is doing something all the time they’ll often figure out ways to make it better and faster.
You want to encourage this because if one employee discovers something great you want to be able to implement it with others.
You can build in incentives. Profit sharing. Communicate with your team that every improvement in the business processes improves overall profit and allows for more opportunity for everyone.
Check-in on the processes from time to time. Set reminders on your calendar to check with employees on their processes. Ask if they are having hangups. Ask if things are taking a lot of time or causing stress. And also ask where they’ve found efficiencies.
Processes, the basic outline for doing a task, are crucial for the success and growth of your company. Follow these steps for documenting processes in your business and you’ll be putting yourself in a position to succeed.