Workflow Documentation: Everything You Need to Know
Workflow Documentation: Everything You Need to Know
April 6, 2023
April 6, 2023
Tango Head of Marketing
Nick has been leading high growth teams and scaling early stage tech startups for 10+ years (most recently at Clearbit). He's been in a fantasy football league with his best friends from high school for just as long...and has never won. 😂
Workflow documentation takes place when you capture, store, review, and manage your team’s processes.
Picture this—you’re catching up with your team’s top performers and congratulating them on a homerun of a project. Since they really knocked it out of the park, you ask for their biggest takeaways. They don’t think twice before telling you about a timesaver that would be great for everyone on the team.
The problem? It’s the first time you’ve heard of it.
You know your team isn’t gatekeeping game-changing tips on purpose. You know they probably just haven’t had the time to jot them down, and/or they don't know a great way to share them with the rest of the team.
Enter workflow documentation. Workflow documentation isn’t only a good way to spread the word about the best tips and tricks. It’s also a smart way to corral institutional knowledge and processes into one place.
In this post, we’ll cover the importance of workflow documentation, steps to create effective guides, workflow documentation examples, and (most importantly!) immediately actionable advice.
Importance and benefits of workflow documentation
Raise your hand if you’ve noticed your teams doing completely different workflows. 🖐️
This could be a sign that your teammates don’t know how to share best practices with everyone else—or it can mean the opposite.
Maybe they’re documenting their tried and true methods, but that information is buried in outdated documents or there are multiple versions floating around.
Luckily, workflow documentation can help convert an overflowing virtual filing cabinet into a system that scales.
Here are a few ways your team can benefit from workflow documentation:
Give your team a platform to share their unique knowledge
Get everyone on the same page about your team’s standardized workflows
Help your team learn more quickly and optimize existing ways of working
Leverage best practices to improve productivity and efficiency
Save time on FAQs and sifting through old documents
Help people rally during rapid change
Improve security by weaving precautions into documented processes
Enhance visibility and accountability
Encourage a culture of knowledge sharing with scalable documentation processes
Centralize team knowledge so it’s accessible to all
How to create workflow documentation in 7 steps
Convinced workflow documentation is well worth the effort? The next step is to choose a workflow to capture for your team.
There are a few ways to prioritize which workflow to work on first. Look for workflows that seem to:
Cause lots of questions (for managers, top performers, and new hires)
Start by looking at existing how-to guides and other similar documentation for the workflow you want to capture.
Now’s a great time to consolidate all of those documents. To improve the process and prevent important information from slipping through the cracks, keep them close by as you go through each step.
💡 Tango tip
Champion teammates who are already sharing their knowledge with the team! Recognizing their hard work can help plant the seeds of a strong knowledge sharing culture. 🌱
2. Gather intel from your team
Your next step is to get any background information or tips from your team that might not have made it into your existing guides. Connect with your subject matter experts and others who have performed this workflow and invite your teammates to contribute to the new guide.
Keep an eye out for potential skills or knowledge gaps on the team. You might learn that different teammates are running into the same issues. Uncovering these challenges now may save your team serious time in the future. ⏳
Note: The guide you’re making now might not be the right way to address your team’s needs. If this turns out to be the case, update your list of employee development opportunities to remind yourself to circle back in the future.
💡 Tango tip
Ask for a second—and third, and fourth—opinion! You never know when a personal best practice will inadvertently be a best-kept secret.
3. Define the workflow’s goals
You can start by drafting goals based on what you gathered from the team. Consider the following elements when setting goals:
How your team defines success 🏆
Starting point 🚦
End point ✋
Defining these five things can help keep your overarching goal top of mind as you build out your workflow. You can also avoid overlapping to-dos by determining a clear beginning and end for your end users.
4. Document the steps and key info
Now is the time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Things like: who’s responsible for what, what level of access people will need to complete the process, and of course, the steps involved in the workflow.
💡 Tango tip
Find a cloud-based documentation tool that makes it easy to share knowledge across platforms and reflects updates in real time.
Below are some key pieces of information to consider as you capture your workflow:
Steps for the workflow and the timing of each
Dependencies between steps and issues or delays that can happen
Team members involved and their responsibilities (especially if someone needs to approve things!)
Account and other permissions needed to get started
Expected deliverables or output
Glossary of team-specific terms
Why the workflow is valuable for the team
Links to relevant team resources
Contact information for questions
If you haven’t already, it’s also time to find the best documentation tools to make it easier to create, share, manage, and update your workflow documentation.
💃 Let's Tango: Create workflow documentation in seconds
Hate seeing good tips get lost in a sea of stale documentation? You need Tango—the free Chrome extension that captures workflows in real time and makes it easy to learn on the job, in the flow of work.
Many teams create workflow diagrams to visualize the major steps in their workflow. It’s an easy way to understand the process before diving into the specifics. The diagram can be a static image or something interactive, like a kanban board.
One challenge you might want to think about? Beautiful visuals can easily become outdated if part of a process changes. Some project management tools can make these diagrams easy to update, but overhauling an existing graphic usually takes some training.
To avoid stale documentation and minimize the amount of maintenance needed, try keeping diagrams high-level so they can serve as a general visual for your workflow documentation. Then, you can add more granular information in the rest of your guide that’s easier for anyone to update.
💡 Tango tip
Create an easy-to-update workflow diagram template to save your team from reinventing the wheel each time.
6. Review, test, review, then test again
By this step, you’ll have a new (and improved!) workflow document that you can be proud of. 🙌
Next, you can pass it along to the most relevant people on your team to get their early thoughts.
On top of the team that will use the workflow, you may also want to share it with others for their feedback. Thinking about what happens before, after, and during this workflow can help you remember the big picture and get ahead of potential roadblocks.
Here’s a list of people to loop in as you finalize your workflow document:
Teammates who will use the document to complete the workflow
Teammates who work on the workflow(s) before this one to make sure they’re aware of what their team needs
Teammates who work on the workflow(s) after this one to make sure they’re set up for their next steps
Teammates who are most directly affected by the output/results
You likely can’t reach out individually to each person for every workflow. Instead, you can reach out to a few key team members or managers who have a pulse on different teams.
Remember—process makes perfect, so it may take some trial and error to lock in an efficient workflow that can scale.
Once you’ve got your notes and feedback, you can make tweaks and test your updated workflow. See how it goes, and tweak it again if needed.
7. Share with the wider team
You’ve researched, tested, and optimized as much as you can. Now's the time to get the how-to guide out to the rest of your team. 🎉
To pick the best place to house your new workflow doc, consider who needs access and how they could most easily find it.
It’s also worth thinking about the level of privacy needed for this particular workflow. Is this intellectual property you want to protect or something people outside of your team need access to?
Either way, it’s good practice to maintain one document with a saved version history, rather than trying to manage multiple versions of a single workflow guide. 😵💫
Workflow documentation examples
Workflow diagrams can look a lot different between industries and even between teams. Check out these examples to help you get started.
IT workflow documentation example
Workflow documentation for IT teams can focus on security, repeatability, and efficiency to help them get their jobs done faster and more accurately. Nailing down a clear workflow can help the team run smoothly while minimizing the opportunity for mistakes.
Sales workflow documentation example
The sales process can follow specific steps to get a potential customer’s interest, excite them about your team’s product or service, and hopefully convert them as customers. Documentation can help clarify specific steps in the sales process so everyone’s aware of your best practices.
Human resources workflow documentation example
Human resources workflows are especially important to make sure everyone has the resources they need to secure your team’s sensitive information. Documentation can help keep everyone on the same page and make sure no important steps fall through the cracks.
Tips for creating great workflow documentation
You can never have enough tips—especially if they can help you and your team get your to-dos checked off faster with less back-and-forth.
To see if your workflow documentation is up to snuff, ask yourself if a new hire would be able to get through the whole thing. If the answer is, “yes,” you’re in good shape.
Check out these other tips to try when capturing a workflow:
Use simple language and visuals to share more context and fewer walls of text 📄
Blur or remove sensitive information 🙈
Annotate and crop images so it’s easy to understand what’s most important 🖼️
Add branding for polish and to differentiate official team documents 💼
Remove unnecessary steps to keep your documentation succinct ✂️
Encourage your team to suggest, create, and implement workflow updates 💻
Find workflow documentation software that’s easy for anyone to use and can integrate with your current tools 🖱️
Provide access to relevant teams 🗃️
Test for repeatability after each update 🔁
Give your teammates a clear way to provide feedback (via email or through a form) 🗳️
Schedule routine documentation review to keep workflows up to date 📆
The bottom line
When done well, workflow documentation is a win-win for both the people teaching/coaching and the people learning/doing.
Improving your workflows isn’t just good for business (read: productivity, efficiency, and the bottom line). Any time you save from fielding repetitive questions or searching for documents can now go towards more strategic initiatives, finding additional opportunities to improve, focusing on what’s most interesting to you, and capturing more workflows.
So, don't be shy. Show off your work(flows)—and help everyone else do the same. 💃