Collaboration Tip: Document Your Workflow

Aug 2, 2013
5 Min Read

One way to get organized in a new role or to stay organized in a changing role is to document your workflow and processes. Write down exactly what you do as part of your daily work, step-by-step. If your company already has an operations manual, take a pass at updating the manuals you've received. If you sit in meetings, take detailed notes. If you consult with clients, write a summary follow-up after each discussion.

5 reasons to document your workflow:

  1. Helps you learn – when we carry out a process for the first time, most of us don’t remember it exactly, especially if there is a time lag between the time that we first learn it and the time that we use it next. Relying on memory, even with a well-known process, is the easiest way to make mistakes.
  2. Easily discover your errors – it’s easier to backtrack if you have a path to follow. If you are creating a new process, it might be tempting to think you want to perfect it first, but it will save you time in the long run if you start documenting right away.
  3. Teach it to someone else – when a process is documented, it becomes much easier to teach someone else how to do it. It is likely they will be able to follow the instructions without any supervision or formal training.
  4. Document changes – when you improve a process or discover a more efficient way of doing your work, this is information you want to share with your boss and colleagues. Knowledge and information workers usually take this for granted, thinking it only helps our day-to-day workflow (and sometimes we might not even notice that we’ve done it!), but it can have positive consequences for the productivity of your entire team.
  5. Standardize workflow – All too often, people doing the same work actually do it very differently. This can be a problem for efficiency and is considered an area for improvement according to the lean process improvement philosophy.
  6. Makes leaving easy – Whether you eventually leave your company, your department, your role, or you pass on only a subset of your specific tasks, you will not be doing this work forever. Leaving documentation behind will ensure a smooth transition, help you stay calm in those last days, and will be appreciated by everyone.

Tips and ideas for documenting your workflow:

  • Each time you do a task for the first time, write down the steps that you take.
  • Keep a running list on post-it notes and later transfer it to an electronic file.
  • Or, start with your laptop immediately—I like to use my Microsoft Surface and OneNote and write my notes on the screen using the stylus. They auto-save and are easily editable later.
  • Use a separate file for each task and a separate folder for each bucket of work.
  • Download a screencast program or software to record your screen.
  • When someone asks for help on how to do something, write it out in an email first and then follow-up in person. You can save the text and turn that into documentation.
  • Take notes during or immediately after meetings. Email those out to stakeholders. This serves as a great follow-up everyone appreciates and provides documentation for future use and reference.
  • Even if the documentation is for your own benefit only, pretend you are writing instructions for someone else; focus on making the steps accurate and complete.

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