Ever heard the story about how a checklist helped win World War II?
The Boeing 299 – 103 ft wide, four-engine monstrosity was a project close to complete failure, with fatal casualties on the trial flight. As it turned out, this wasn't due to its design but human error. The press attributed this catastrophe to “too much airplane for one man to fly”.
As Boeing was nearing bankruptcy, the team came up with a seemingly trivial idea, yet ingenious in its simplicity – a checklist. The list of short, concise instructions, broken down into sections for each part of the flight, didn't just save lives. It enabled people to fly Boeing 299 for 1.8 million miles without so much as a single error.
The plane carried five times more bombs than expected, over twice the distance of previous bomber models. This was the advantage the U.S. Army needed to win against the Nazis.
If you need more examples of how effective process documentation can be – how about the time a similar checklist prevented 43 infections and 8 deaths and resulted in $2m saved costs?
The takeaway is simple enough – never underestimate the power of carefully drafted process documentation. Best practices to document processes can help you, and we’ll share eight of them in this guide.
What is process documentation?
“[Processes] help you and your team spend less time in the trenches and more time thinking, creating and innovating.”, as you'll read on the pages of Process! How Discipline and Consistency Will Set You and Your Business Free. Does thorough documentation seem like a daunting process? Don't worry – Lisa González and Mike Paton highlight that it's not about limiting your freedom but creating it.
Documenting processes simply means creating clear, concise and comprehensive records of company procedures. They're supposed to outline all the steps necessary to perform specific tasks.
You can treat process documentation as step-by-step instructions or references for your team members and new employees. They can be used to create knowledge bases in any department, from customer service to engineering. Their approach and structure may vary, but the core concept remains the same.
These kinds of structured frameworks for your business operations ensure compliance with regulations, consistency, accuracy and improved efficiency.
Process documentation: Best practices
Now, let's discover the best practices for effective process documentation that will help you standardize your internal procedures.
Define the scope, goals and audience for your process documentation
Before you document a process, start by setting its foundation and defining its desired scope. The main points to consider are:
- Goals: What is the purpose of your business process documentation, and what objectives should it help your company achieve?
- Processes: What are the specific procedures in your organization that need documenting?
- Process outputs and inputs: What resources, equipment, information or team members are necessary to achieve the expected results? What are the anticipated deliverables of the procedure?
- Audience: Who is the audience? What do they already know? What are their technical abilities and expertise or language requirements? Will they need additional guidance or explanations?
- Timeframe: What is the estimated duration of the process? What milestones will you encounter along the way and use to track progress?
- Importance: What are the projects or processes with the highest priority in terms of upcoming deadlines, impact on revenue or significance for your company's success?
- Stakeholders: Which team members or outside stakeholders should you involve in the process of planning, maintaining and creating documentation processes? Does anyone need to be informed of the finished result or specific process steps?
- Regulatory requirements: What are the industry standards or regulations that impact the documentation or need to be considered in the process? Are there any health and safety procedures that you need to consider?
Break the processes into actionable steps
With a clear foundation and process boundaries in place, it's time to break it down into smaller, bite-size pieces. Prioritization is key – focus on a single department first or segment processes based on their importance. Determine the order of the sequential steps, starting from the initial trigger to the conclusion. Don't have all your documentation in one file, as it easily leads to confusion.
González and Paton advocate the 20/80 approach to documenting processes. Focusing on 100% of the steps in every single business process can get overwhelming and impractical. Process! authors suggest you capture 20% of the most vital steps that will get you 80% of the required results. Although this might not apply to every industry, it's something to keep in mind when your perfectionism starts holding you back from progress.
Keep it clear and concise
The point of creating a how-to guide or standard operating procedure is to make things easier, not harder. So, make sure you're avoiding jargon and using simple, understandable language instead. Include definitions, glossaries and step-by-step instructions.
Keep sentences as short as possible and avoid excess wording. For example:
Don't: In the event of coming across any unforeseen changes to the project schedule or scope, you must notify the project manager as soon as possible. You should then schedule a meeting to discuss the necessary adjustments that may be required to ensure the project stays on track and aligns with the goals.
Do: Notify the project manager of any changes for quick adjustment.
After you finish, we suggest you read the text aloud to judge if everything is clear and the tone is friendly and conversational.
Add visuals and examples
When focusing on keeping things short and comprehensive, flowcharts, diagrams, videos, screenshots and illustrations are your best friends.
However, it's not always about substituting words with images. You’ll get the best results when you combine them: “Text information is remembered better when it is illustrated by pictures than when there is no illustration.” Visual representation of ideas and instructions makes even the most complicated and robust process documentation easier to follow.
Specific illustrations are particularly valuable for the processes people need to perform in apps or programs. With standard operating procedure software like MagicHow, you get screenshots of the process you’re performing broken down into logical steps automatically to show people precisely where to click, with all the “what's”, “where's” and “how's” included.
Use a consistent format
Pick one formatting style – and stick to it. We've mentioned this before, but we'll say it again – the best practices for process documentation require that all process maps are readable and information is easy to find.
Standardizing your documents makes it much easier for employees to navigate them once they get used to what your files typically look like.
The best practice is to create process document templates or use software that always formats your guides in the same way.
Make it accessible
In the modern world, accessibility means digitization. You don't want your carefully crafted notes and process flows dusting away in a forgotten ring binder, do you? We suggest documenting your processes with dedicated programs like MagicHow. It will not only save you time creating records but also facilitate knowledge sharing.
Export the files you create to a cloud, available to everyone needing to use the process flows. You can also consider an intranet system to facilitate collaboration and easy access.
Digitizing your project management also makes it much easier to edit existing documentation, update it and involve stakeholders in the process.
Gather feedback and update regularly
Remember to test all your processes before and after implementation. Testing allows you to identify potential issues and areas for improvement. A great way to ensure your process documentation is readable is to let someone from a different team or outside your company go through the steps. They will have a fresh, unbiased perspective and may pick up errors you were unaware of.
Gather feedback from as many sources as possible to ensure continuous improvement. Gallup workplace experts say that feedback fuels performance. While that statement refers mainly to employee productivity, it's applicable in all aspects of work, as it's the best way to judge how and when improvements are necessary.
Make sure to update all process documentation whenever there's a change in organizational knowledge, objectives, regulations or industry standards. Here's how to keep everything up to date:
- Revisit the foundations of your process documentation to keep in mind what needs updating
- Establish a schedule for reviewing, e.g., revise the files quarterly
- Keep all documentation digital and simplified to allow easy changes
- Implement controls on who can edit the documents and delegate updates if possible
- Track all changes and keep a modification history – just in case you ever need a backup
Streamline with process documentation software
We've briefly mentioned how important it is to use process documentation software like MagicHow to make sure you document procedures thoroughly. Now, let's dive deeper to see exactly how you can implement it.
This tool makes things much easier, reducing the need to create and annotate screenshots. The interface is intuitive and requires no special skills or technical experience to operate.
The MagicHow documentation process is made simple with four basic steps:
1. Start by installing the program. The browser extension is completely free and compatible with Chrome, Firefox, Edge and Safari. You can also sign up for the Advanced or Business plan with additional features like desktop capture, custom branding, AI-generated annotations or sensitive information blur.
2. Once the software is up and running, press the recording button and perform the task you wish to record as usual. While you're doing it, MagicHow works on making screenshots and splitting the procedure into logical steps. Stop the recording once done.
3. Now you can customize the automatically documented process by:
- Writing steps’ titles and annotations
- Adding, deleting or editing the individual steps
- Blurring or redacting sensitive data
- Cropping pictures
- Adding logos and custom branding
- Changing the style (e.g., colors and fonts)
- Replacing or merging the slides
- Adding AI-generated annotations
4. All that's left to do is to share the detailed process documentation you've created with MagicHow. You can do this in several ways:
- Using our shareable links
- Exporting the manual to a PDF format
- Copying the created guide as HTML or Markdown and easily posting it on third-party websites
- Embedding the documented processes in Notion, Confluence, Zendesk, Webflow and other tools or workflows used in your organization
You can use this diverse process documentation tool for pretty much anything, including:
- HR – flows for recruitment, onboarding, training, administering benefits and guides for managing performance and employee relations
- Customer support – helping with troubleshooting by making visual instructions, creating standard operating procedures, answering FAQs and creating user manuals
- Operations – enterprise resource planning, instructions on managing customer relations, projects, finances and supply chains, guides on business reporting and data analysis, flows for marketing and digital advertising
- Sales – helping to standardize processes with checklists, improving consistent communication and empathy, implementing new tools
Why do you need business process management?
Some teams spend up to 60% of their working time struggling with inefficiencies arising from “disconnection debt” caused by data silos.
Don't make that your reality; instead, have your employees focus on driving you toward the desired business outcomes. HBR says implementing modern technology is one of the best practices to solve this problem.
Here's what process documentation tools can help you with:
- Time and money savings: Documented processes are instant sources of information. They help to automate tasks, minimize lost documents and share knowledge. You also save on data storage costs and shift paid employee time from filing documents to more business-critical objectives. As we've mentioned at the beginning, process documentation can help you save millions in the long run.
- Standardization: Maintaining one standard of completing tasks helps to promote safety, consistent quality, compatibility and regulatory compliance. Standardization eliminates guesswork and confusion, reduces operational costs and improves productivity, customer service and efficient resource allocation.
- Business efficiency: Taking a step back to examine the process can reveal previously missed opportunities for improvement or unidentified problem roots. Also, when everyone follows the best practices to complete a process, you'll see consistently better results and fewer errors.
- Effective collaboration: Detailed process knowledge reduces misunderstandings and confusion. There's no more questioning about who's right or which standard is better. Easy sharing also makes collaboration run much smoother.
- Better employee onboarding and training: Well-documented processes are easy to understand and follow by anyone – including new employees who might know nearly nothing about your company's standards and regulations. Once you create a detailed training manual, there's no more explaining one thing a thousand times over.
- Boosting engagement: Many aspects go into engaging and retaining employees – but a transparent culture of knowledge sharing is undoubtedly one of them. It strengthens trust in the employer, boosts confidence and makes work less overwhelming.
We believe every company needs robust process documentation. Best practices from our list ensure you're always reaching your maximum potential and quality standards. Process documentation serves better productivity, reduces complexity and lowers business operating costs.
The easiest way to profit from the advantages this offers is to create records with software that's designed just for that. MagicHow is affordable and intuitive to use. It can help you drastically reduce time spent on making and annotating screenshots. Using one tool for your documentation needs also facilitates file standardization and sharing.
Sign up to MagicHow to start improving with our documentation tool.