Download Audio: Documentation Crucial For Every Business
For millennia, humanity has documented most of what we do, from our history to our processes. There are many reasons for documenting these things. For one, we would like to have a record of our past, so that we can reflect. But there is another important reason.
Documentation isn’t just there for posterity, it also informs and guides us. When people build their businesses, however, they rarely think of documentation. It is nevertheless an important part of running a business.
Not only is documentation important for a business, it is crucial. Every business should make a concerted effort to document their business, in order to ensure growth and sustainability.
There are different types of documentation, depending on the intended purpose. Although I have demarcated the types of documentation into categories, these often overlap, and are not strict separations.
External documentation is written with an audience outside of the business in mind. This includes groups, such as customers, or partners, or even regulatory authorities. External documentation is written in order to communicate to people outside the business.
Unlike External Documentation, internal documentation’s focus is inward. It is aimed to serve the people working in and on the business. This type of documentation is a broader category for types of documentation that will follow, namely: Team Documentation, Reference Documentation, and Project Documentation.
The team is a great organisational unit for any business. By working in teams, organisations can leverage group dynamics that are not possible from individual efforts. It is therefore crucial to document a team’s activities and processes.
Regardless of the type of business, there are tasks and processes that are often repetitive. These tasks and processes are great candidates for reference documentation. Reference documentation provides pertinent details about a subject, and is often used as a guide to performing certain tasks.
Whilst projects may be unique, they often share certain aspects, particularly when looking at a single organisation. By documenting the relevant aspects of a project, knowledge gained over time can be harnessed, towards furthering the business’ objectives.
There are numerous advantages to authoring and maintaining business internal documentation. If documentation is consistently authored and maintained, the benefits are numerous, and provide a great competitive advantage for the business.
Below are some of the advantages your business can gain from authoring and maintaining internal documentation.
Documentation provides a single source of truth. Instead of relying on individuals to provide direction in an organisation, documentation can be a single source of truth, that determines how the business operates, and is universally available to all intended parties.
Documentation will ensure that knowledge is transferred, from those with the know-how and experience, to others without much or with less of these attributes in the organisation. It will also ensure that knowledge gaps are minimised when key personnel leave the business.
I remember watching a video clip on Facebook about how misinformation can quickly spread.
In this clip, a group of people were lined up, all facing forwards, and the first person had the person in front of them turn around and pass a message along to them, by means of gestures. Each person in the line had the next person turn around, receive the message, and pass it on to the next person.
An interesting thing happened in this clip. As the message was passed along, it did not take long, before the message was altered and, by the time the message was passed on to the last person, it was completely different from the original message.
The same thing happens in organisations, if word of mouth is relied upon to convey instruction and guidance. This is a problem that business documentation solves very well.
Every business has a culture that determines its workflow. Workflow management is another great candidate for business documentation. It ensures that everyone within the business does things the way they are supposed to and are expected to.
By documenting workflows, a business ensures consistency in how things are done. How does your business handle purchases? You can document that. How do your sales people handle the sales pipeline? You can document that. How do you carry out the difficult task of letting an employee go? You can document that as well. The list is long, but you get the picture.
If your business is just starting out, you will have a lot of things that will be done for the first time. Over time, however, most of the things done within the business will usually be a repetition of what was done before.
Business documentation will serve as a template for how things are done within your organisation. As mentioned before, it will also help with knowledge transfer. Less effort will therefore be needed to carry out tasks, due to the advantage of knowledge transfer, instead of starting from a blank canvas all the time. Thereby reducing the duplication of effort.
Business documentation is great for new hires. When someone joins a company, they are not familiar with the company culture, or workflows. A lot of time and effort is therefore required to train and orient new hires.
The process of training and orienting a new hire can be difficult, if there is no documentation, to guide and assist the process. By documenting the business processes and workflows, new recruits will have a wealth of resources, from which to refer in order to find their feet in the new company.
Documentation also helps and encourages new hires to be independent: fast. With a library of documentation at their disposal, they do not have to seek the assistance of their supervisor on every single step.
I realised the importance of documentation for our business early on at Webmobyle. I therefore started documenting all processes, from software installation to human resources management, way before a single employee was hired.
In order to do this, I needed good software tools to help with this process. You see, it is not enough to just author documentation, you need to make it easily accessible, for the audience that needs it. You also need an efficient way to manage and revise the content, and also allow for sharing and feedback, as well as collaboration in growing and maintaining the documentation resources.
It was therefore crucial that I find software tools, to help with documentation at Webmobyle. I found these tools in the suite of Atlassian software product solutions, that checked all the right boxes. With these tools, we can document processes, workflows, projects: and Webmobyle being a software business, even code.
Although authoring documentation can be a pain, it is totally worth it. I see the tangible benefits and advantages, that documentation has brought to Webmobyle, and the time and effort spent creating these resources are well spent in my book.
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