How to write process documentation: your step-by-step guide
By: Jill Huettich
So you’ve been tasked with creating process documentation at your office and you’re wondering how exactly to go about it … perhaps you’re dreading it a bit too.
Fortunately, we have good news for you–the task is actually quite straightforward, and in this process documentation guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to get started.
So, we’ll discuss the different types of process documentation, show you how to write process documentation, and review some of the best practices for creating process documentation.
What are the different types of process documentation?
There are three main types of process documentation:
1. Process maps
A process map is used to visually represent a business process. Typically, the map is created in the form of a flowchart, depicting activities and interdependencies. Below is an example of a robust process map created using MindManager.
A procedure is a document that describes how a process should be performed. Usually, a procedure is created in a word document. Because of the level of detail a procedure contains, that document can run pretty long.
3. Work instructions
Similar to a procedure, work instructions specify how various tasks within a process should be performed. However, work instructions are even more specific than procedures, providing in-depth, step-by-step instructions.
How to write process documentation
To write process documentation, you’ll first want to create process documentation framework. Process documentation framework provides an overview of all your business processes.
Say, for example, that you own an online ecommerce business. Some of your various processes and subprocesses might include:
- Fulfill incoming orders
- Receive order
- Gather items for order
- Package order
- Ship order
- Develop marketing strategy
- Assess audience demographics
- Perform competitive analysis
- Evaluate marketing channels
- Document proposed strategy
- Execute marketing campaign
- Create ad copy
- Design ad graphics
- Run advertisements
To create your business process framework, you’ll want to outline all the major processes within your company. That said, don’t attempt to do this in one shot—instead, take your time. Think of your business process framework as a working document that you can build upon and modify as you go.
Also, keep in mind that to create your framework, you’ll probably need to involve other team members to accurately understand how things are done at your organization. So, don’t forget to schedule time for some brainstorming sessions along the way!
Creating a process map
Once you have your framework in hand, you can use it to create a high-level overview of each process. Say, for instance, that you wanted to document the order fulfillment process.
Your first step would be to consider all the major tasks that go into processing every order that comes in, as well as identifying the departments responsible for completing those tasks. This might look something like this:
PROCESS: ORDER FULFILLMENT
- Order is received (Customer Service)
- Order request is sent to the warehouse (Customer Service)
- Order is located and picked (Warehouse)
- Order is packed and prepared for shipping (Warehouse)
- Order is shipped (Warehouse)
Once you have the process thoroughly documented, you’re ready to create a process map, using software like MindManager. The process map should illustrate each task with a symbol, using arrows to show the order in which those tasks should be performed. Your diagram should also indicate which department is responsible for each task, so there’s no confusion.
Creating a procedure
As you may recall, a procedure offers a greater level of detail than a process map. So, for this example, let’s say we have a high-level process of executing a marketing campaign.
One of the things we have to do before we can execute our campaign is create ad copy. To create that ad copy, we need to hire a copywriter.
So, the procedure for hiring a copywriter might look something like this:
- Advertise job posting online (human resources)
- Obtain and review resumes (human resources)
- Interview top 20% of candidates by phone (human resources)
- Interview top 10% of candidates by phone (marketing department)
- Make hiring decision (marketing department)
- Draw up hiring paperwork (human resources)
- Extend job offer (human resources)
As you can see, a procedure goes into more detail than a process map. Still, it doesn’t cover all the specifics that go into hiring a copywriter. For instance, it doesn’t indicate what websites the job needs to be posted on or how the job description should be created.
That’s where work instructions come in …
Creating work instructions
Work instructions are even more specific than procedures, since they offer step-by-step instructions explaining how someone should perform a task.
In this example, let’s say we want to write work instructions for advertising a job posting. Those instructions might look something like this:
- Open up the Job_Description_Template.doc located at G:\\companydocs\humanresources\hiring
- Save the document under a new name in the same folder, using the following naming convention (JobTitle_Today’sDate).
- Change the job title field to the name of the position you’re trying to fill.
- In the qualifications field, indicate what qualifications job applicants must have to be considered for the job.
You get the general idea. The goal here is to provide workers with such a high level of detail that they can easily perform the work, solely by relying on the instructions.
What are process documentation best practices?
As with anything else, when writing process documentation, it’s a good idea to follow best practices. Here are some recommended guidelines:
1. Use a template
Use a standard template for any process documentation you create, rather than doing things differently each time you document a new process. A template will keep things consistent throughout your entire organization.
2. Track versions
It’s always smart to retain your process documentation’s version history. Knowing which changes were made–and when–is useful, should questions or concerns crop up later.
Although we touched on this earlier, it can’t be emphasized enough. The more you can collaborate with your team on process documentation, the more accurate that documentation will be. While you might think you know exactly how things are done at your workplace, sometimes processes are performed very differently from the stated way of doing things.
As you can see, writing process documentation doesn’t have to be difficult. And once you begin doing it, you’ll find that the benefits are well worth it. After all, process documentation has repeatedly been shown to streamline operations, cut costs, increase productivity, and proactively prevent problems.
So, if you haven’t created process documentation at your organization yet, you know how the saying goes … there’s no better time than the present!