How to Write Process Documentation: All You Need to Know
There is one thing that differentiates the most successful companies: efficient processes that are clearly—and regularly—documented.
Early-stage startups tend to take a freestyle approach to their operations under the guise of being agile. Process documentation is considered a waste of time and a sign of a corporate bureaucracy, so it gets deprioritized or avoided altogether.
But overlooking process documentation will backfire, especially as you scale your business and hire more employees.
In this guide, you will learn:
- What process documentation is
- Types of process documentation
- Why it’s essential for your company
- How to create process documentation in 7 steps
Bonus: We will share examples and templates you can start using today!
What is Process Documentation?
Process documentation is the creation of step-by-step instructions that help employees carry out a specific process from start to finish. These documents outline all the stages needed to complete a particular task, such as onboarding a new hire or handling a customer complaint.
Up-to-date and relevant documentation eliminates confusion and disorganization helping teams be more productive.
Types of Process Documentation
Process documentation can seem like a tedious, thankless, and even useless task.. But is it really?
It helps to think about process documentation as an overarching term for several content types that fall under various categories:
Standard Operating Procedures
Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are detailed instructions on how to complete a specific recurring task. A few examples:
- Getting set up in the company payroll
- Billing process
- Categorizing transactions in accounting software
- Performance reviews
- Maintenance procedures
- Equipment purchases
- Company compliance training
- Technical aspects of a particular subtask, like How to Sort by Date in Google Sheets:
There are several HR and recruiting processes that set the standards:
- Outreaching to potential candidates on LinkedIn
- Running job interviews
- Onboarding new employees
- Training manuals
- Employee satisfaction surveys
- Offboarding checklist
Customer success processes
Your customer support team would be under constant pressure without these go-to resources:
- Customer onboarding workflow
- Customer complaint-solving procedure
- Refund handling process
- Contacting the development or IT department for troubleshooting
- How to create and monitor tasks
- Guides for specific tasks, like how to enter customer data in Stripe and Salesforce:
Sales and marketing teams
Both sales and marketing teams rely on processes to keep their campaigns and projects on track. Marketing and sales process documentation can include:
- Creating and publishing blog posts
- Creating and publishing social media posts
- Creating and uploading videos on YouTube
- Setting up tier-1, tier-2, tier-3 campaigns
- Running email marketing campaigns
- Sending cold outreach and follow-ups
- Conducting product demo calls
- Running a webinar:
Process Documentation Formats
Let’s leave the dull, text-heavy manuals where they belong: in the past. Documentation should be engaging and easy to learn. With the proper tools and best practices, yours can be! But before we jump into that, let’s cover the different content formats. Process documentation can take the form of:
- Video tutorials
- Training manuals
- Knowledge base or wiki articles
- Onboarding documents
- And more!
Now that you know the “what,” it’s time to learn the “why.”
Why Process Documentation is Essential for Your Business
When processes fail, they can derail any project, campaign, new product release, or fundamental operational activities. That's why it's essential to make sure that your processes are clearly documented and easily accessible for everyone on the team.
Your teams become more effective
“Sorry to bother you again, Jessica, but could you tell me how to handle this customer ticket?”
“Yeah, sure thing, Tom…”
Without a documented and standardized process for handling customer tickets, Tom can’t easily find the answers he needs to do his job—and Jessica can’t focus on her work after being interrupted.
With documented and up-to-date processes:
- Tom would be able to figure out how to do his task quickly and efficiently
- Jessica would be able to focus on her own work, uninterrupted
- Tom and Jessica would both save themselves time and frustration
Your key business metrics and results improve
Employees and teams that follow proven processes lead to better business. Let’s see how that plays out for different departments:
HR and recruiting
- When a new recruiter in the company can follow a documented process of screening and interviewing candidates, top talent is easier to find and hire.
- With a foolproof onboarding process, new hires can get up to speed faster.
- Solving more support tickets in less time increases customers’ retention rate.
- By following tried and tested procedures, the customer success team avoids misleading customers and prevents increased churn and complaints.
Marketing and sales
- Planning and executing campaigns with clear objectives and KPIs is way more effective than artistic chaos.
- Sales calls with a documented structure delivers more closed deals than spontaneous conversations.
Your employees feel more connected
When processes are buried in a Google Drive folder with limited access, poorly executed, or not documented at all, teams can quickly become disorganized and disconnected.
But organizations with strong cultures of process documentation enable their team members to share knowledge and find answers without disrupting each other, encouraging better alignment and collaboration across the board. Team members will feel confident in both their work and each other, and this feeling of connection can translate into greater productivity.
Employees don’t have to reinvent the wheel
When process documentation is outdated, inaccessible, or nonexistent, teams will start inventing their own processes or taking shortcuts. While standardizing and documenting processes takes time and effort , taking shortcuts can lead to costly mistakes.
It’s worth it to invest time in creating and updating process documentation that’s widely available for your team and stakeholders. This will save your employees from wasting their time and energy on figuring out new ways to approach tasks and projects, because the process has already been set—and documented.
You can remove bottlenecks and save time with automation
It might be tempting to document a process once, share it, and follow it blindly. But there’s always room for improvement.
The most efficient approach is to validate processes in real time. If you notice any bottlenecks or inefficiencies while going through a process, note them and do a retrospective afterward. Once you identify a problem, remove it from the documentation and update it.
During that retro session, you may also find that some tasks are repetitive and can be automated. Reflecting this in your documentation will help streamline the process.
How to Create Process Documentation in 7 Steps
Process documentation gets a bad rap as a tedious task. Not knowing where to start only makes it worse.
Here are seven steps to easier process documentation:
Step 1: Define the scope
Take it one process at a time. Select and name your first one. Define its purpose for your company with measurable results you want to achieve. Next, frame the scope of this process and briefly describe it, including key objectives and required resources.
Step 2: Collect all information about the process
Before you start thinking about how to structure the process, you need to know the input. The idea is to collect all raw materials and bits of information from teams and stakeholders. For that, it’s best to assign one project owner.
Step 3: Identify key players
Once you have all the data, you can pinpoint every person required to get this process to the finish line. Create a list of individuals with brief descriptions of their scope of responsibilities in the process and, most importantly, their job roles.
Step 4: Visualize the process
Time to map out your process. First, break down all the information you’ve collected into steps. If the process is linear, a simple chronological list will do the trick. But if the steps branch out into several other tasks, figure out the best way to visualize it.
Step 5: Add exceptions
Look at the process roadmap and identify if there are any exceptions to a standard routine. For example, skipping the cover letter would be an exception in recruiting a top-class expert. Make sure that all the exceptions in your documentation are followed by explicit instructions on what to do in particular cases.
Step 6: Include control points
Imagine a new feature release in any digital product: It’s usually accompanied by emails and other communication to external audiences. Sending written content about that feature back to the product team for approval is an example of a control point.
Step 7: Test and review
Processes don’t live in a vacuum. Once you create your documentation, share it with stakeholders to gather feedback. Anything they flag at this stage gives you a chance to tweak the documentation. After the final approval, you are all set to test it. Monitor the first process according to the new documentation, and track any possible glitches.
Process Documentation Best Practices
Nothing is more frustrating than investing time and effort in documentation that will only gather digital dust. Here’s how to create process documentation that your team will actually use.
Make it easy to understand
People are busy and easily distracted. They should be able to read your documentation and instantly know what it is about.
There’s no room for text-heavy docs filled with jargon. Make it simple and to the point. It’s a step-by-step manual, so avoid any details that might be confusing.
Concise language is essential, but stellar documentation can’t do without imagery. Visualizing processes is a simple and powerful trick to capture your readers’ attention and help them learn the process easily.
Create diagrams and flowcharts, or embed screenshots or other images in your documentation.
Use process documentation software
The biggest reason for documentation dread? The time it takes to create it. Without a documentation tool, it’s easy to spend hours taking manual screenshots, copying and pasting (and annotating) those screenshots in a document, and writing out each step of the process.
With Tango’s browser extension and desktop application, you can automatically create step-by-step guides by simply walking through a process yourself (for example: How to Create a Task Template in Asana). Tango captures every step and generates a process doc complete with screenshots, annotations, text descriptions of the entire Workflow.
Don’t hide the documentation
If your documentation is buried in someone’s Google Drive folder with limited access, you might as well delete it.
First, make the document easily accessible—whether it’s a shared Google Drive, Dropbox, Sync, or an internal Knowledge Base or wiki.
Second, inform your teammates about your documentation as soon as you publish it. It doesn’t have to be an email to the entire company. If the process covers finances, send a message to the finance department; if the process concerns the customer success team, it can be a message on a closed CS Slack channel.
Review and update your process docs
One of the biggest problems with documentation, SOPs, and training manuals is that they can quickly get stale. When they’re outdated and irrelevant, people will ignore them. And that will create a vicious cycle of reinventing the wheel, ad hoc processes, and costly mistakes.
There is a number of reasons why documentation can become useless:
- Processes evolve naturally
- New employees come to a company and bring different ideas to the table
- A company releases a new product or a new feature
- A company acquires another company
There is one solution: Treat your documentation as a living organism. Come back to it with all the stakeholders and reassess whether it should be changed.
Process Documentation Templates
Now you know the use cases, the step-by-step guide, and the best practices for process documentation. Here are two templates you can copy and edit for yourself.
Knowledge base articles
Process scope: Creating and publishing articles about our products and features on our Knowledge Base.
Process purpose: Decreasing the number of tickets for the Customer Support Team.
Measurable results: KB articles page views; the number of tickets assigned to the CS team before and after publishing articles.
Teams involved: Customer Support Team, Product Team, Marketing Team.
Key stakeholders: CS Team Manager, Product Owner, Content Marketing Manager
Gather the required information:
- CS Team Manager - the number of customer tickets per particular pain point
- Product Owner - information about how to solve the problem
Analyze the data and create steps:
- Step 1: Content Marketing Manager selects the customer pain point
- Step 2: CMM analyzes the input from a Product Owner
- Step 3: CMM creates a content brief
- Step 4: CMM assigns the brief to a content writer (internally or externally)
- Step 5: CMM reviews the content and sends it to CS Team Manager and Product Owner
- Step 6: Round of edits (if necessary)
- Step 7: CMM sends content to a proofreader
- Step 8: Publishing the article on Knowledge Base
- Step 9: Analyzing the traffic and the number of customer tickets
New feature release
Process scope: Designing, developing, releasing, and marketing a new feature
Process purpose: Solving customers’ pain points, solving technological debt, and increasing the number of new users.
Measurable results: The number of tickets assigned to the CS team before and after the new feature release; the number of new users before and after the release.
Teams involved: Customer Support Team, Product Team, Marketing Team.
Key stakeholders: CS Team Manager, Product Owner, Marketing Manager / CMO, Content Marketing Manager, Sales Team Manager, CEO
Gather the required information:
- Customer Success Team: most common requests and complaints from customers, customer interviews
- Sales: sales calls analysis, feedback received by account managers, churn analysis
- Product: R&D analysis
- Marketing: competitive intelligence
- Step 1: Data analysis - workshops
- Step 2: Ideation - workshops -> prioritizing
- Step 3: Prototyping -> mock-ups, storyboards, fast iterations
- Step 4: Design
- Step 5: Development
- Step 6: Testing
- Step 7: Deployment
- Step 8: Marketing communication: website, email, social
- Step 9: Customer feedback - CS, Sales
- Step 10: Iterations/bug fixing - Product
- Step 11: Analytics - customer feedback, new user acquisition, customer retention
You can find more process documentation templates for General Process Documentation, Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), and New Hire Training templates here.
Refine Your Operations With Solid Processes
Process documentation is the easiest way to share and scale your team’s internal knowledge while taking your SOPs, project management, or new-hire training program to the next level.
And it doesn’t have to be painful to manage. With right tools (like Tango!), process documentation can be a breeze—and even kind of fun.