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11 steps to document your processes effectively


Documenting processes is part of any process management program. You visualise your processes in order to clarify what is being done, in what sequence and by whom. 

Furthermore, it is the basis for linking many aspects of your business to the activities of that same organisation. For example, where are your systems/machinery used, where do compliance rules apply, etc? 

Ultimately, improvements and changes cannot be applied if is not clear to all involved what the current activities and processes are.


What are the steps to success?

So, how do you document processes effectively? Here we provide a step-by-step walkthrough to ensuring every aspect of a process or procedure is properly documented:

1. Get all roles of the process together

Make sure each role (from each involved department) is represented and participates in the discussion. In football terms; you cannot discuss the match with the team if your players are on the pitch, but the goalkeeper and forward are still in the locker rooms!

2. Organise a workshop in which all participate

Only the people working in the process really know how the process is done. But none of them sees the whole picture. So, get all roles together in a 'workshop' and jointly visualise the process from end to end.

3. Start with the current situation, or the AS IS

Even if you want to get a new way of working, always start with the current situation. It is hard (or impossible) to improve if you don’t know what you are currently doing.

4. Set goals and empower individuals

During the workshop, pose the question 'what are we going to do and why?' Ask a manager to attend and clarify why something is being done so people know that their time spent here is valuable. Also, empower the team by making clear that their documentation of the process and any suggestions to improve it will be picked up by management. Next, make sure the manager leaves the room in order to give the power and freedom to the team in the meeting.

5. Identify each step in the process

Use a verb and a noun and put a role on each task. Who is doing what at each moment in the process? Make sure this is done in easy language that all can understand. The ultimate viewer should be able to read the process map as easy as reading a comic book.

6. Discuss processing time

A valuable trick is asking the responsible individual at every identified role how long it takes him or her to execute the task. Then, document the answer. The answer to the question makes the whole team think in more depth about that task. What is actually happening, why? And is that always the case?

7. Document all relevant exceptions - and most exceptions are relevant!

Process experts know that often the sum of cases needing an exception is greater than the number of cases going through your business as a 'clean case'. So, when mapping a process, always ask the role executing the step whether he/she always carries out each task in that specific way. Ask them to elaborate on the situation and map such exceptions, as well as the clean case, for each eventuality.

8. Document low-hanging fruit, complaints, suggestions

As you are discussing and documenting the process with your team, make sure you visibly write down all critical comments (about the process or a step) and any suggestions. This is critical for two reasons: an improvement suggestion made by the team is often better and easier to implement than those thought up in a consultant's office, and it is critical for the team's involvement and empowerment to see that their comments matter.

9. Calculate to validate the process

Running a calculation through the process helps to understand the process that was created. Is it correct that it takes us three weeks to complete a request for service and that we spend four/five hours actually doing the work during that time, or did we miss something? When improvements are made it is nice to be able to calculate the impact and to report that to management.

10. Publish, celebrate and live the process

If/when improvements are made during mapping - and often there are by just using the low-hanging fruit alone - conclude their importance relative to goals as discussed in step 4. You must then share this information with the whole organisation to help recognise the work done and to encourage others to do the same!

11. Repeat

The process at the point is fully mapped and documented and and improvements have been made and tested. It's now time to repeat the process from step 1 to ensure further optimisation. Repeat this framework again and again...


Key points to remember

  • Ensure all documentation is clear and concise
  • Update your process documents regularly
  • Keep separate documentation for individual processes
  • Assign ownership of documents to a responsible party
  • Store all documents in an easily accessible space
  • Ensure all documents are standardised (use templates)
  • Visualisation is key to ease of understanding


Related content:

Find out more about business process mapping

How to implement a risk management process in your business

A Guide To Business Process Management

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