Documenting your business processes is essential for long-term quality of operations and is part of the basic planning necessary to ensure that in the event of a disaster you can quickly get back on track. It doesn’t need to be a complex task and while a technical author can minimise some of the headaches anyone can do it if they follow these six simple steps.
Get High Level
Before you write a complex document, get started by mapping out the big picture process – I like to use flipchart paper on a wall for this but you can use any tool you feel comfortable with. Don’t get into detail, you’re looking to identify the steps not the “how to” at this stage. If you aren’t familiar with the process get the parties who currently perform the function together and get them to “information dump” on you. Once everyone agrees that you’ve got the outline covered you can move on.
Don’t rush on to writing out the details, first map your high level process using some flowcharting software (if your organisation won’t spring for Visio, there’s a pretty good free flowcharting package that comes with OpenOffice, “Draw” and that’s free). While there are specific conventions for flowcharts, they aren’t mandatory and if you don’t have any familiarity with them – use the boxes that make sense to you and your team.
Get Task Oriented
Now map out the tasks in detail, each task should be fully defined with the “owner” identified alongside timescales and any other necessary input. You should build in failure cases where proceeding tasks have not been performed correctly and what action should be taken in these cases. A simple table structure is fine for this.
Wherever possible grab some images to go alongside the words, for screen shots and the like Snag It is an excellent tool but if you can’t get hold of it MS Paint does fine for screen capture (press the PRTSC button and then paste the image into Paint). People find visuals much easier to follow than a stream of text, but don’t go overboard you need to include an explanation of each image too.
Get Complex and Simple
If your process has multiple choice options (different paths) then make sure you identify each step clearly and highlight the parts by the use of naming conventions and pointers in your text to make sure they are easily identifiable.
Include Hints and Tips
If there’s more than one way to do something in your process, include some notes or “helpful hints” that detail these. For example if you’re going to write a process about saving a record in a database there’s often a “File Menu then Click on Save” option and a “click on the Save icon in the toolbar” option too. Don’t leave out the details.
Writing up a process is a key business task but it doesn’t have to be hugely complicated, just keep it simple and only include what you need to make it work and follow these tips to ensure the best documentation.