Method 1 of 4: Deciding How to Document Your Process


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Companies often document a process to make sure each worker knows how to perform it correctly, or to analyze a process for improvement. If you are asked to document a process, or decide to do it yourself, make sure you involve people who are experienced and knowledgeable about the process as a whole. Two types of flowcharts are described below, but if you think a different type of simple diagram or a text document is more suitable to your process, you may use that instead. In that case, read the general advice section to get an idea of the purpose of process documentation.

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  1. Stick to one process at a time whenever possibleDon’t try to describe your entire job in one flowchart. A series of short documents that cover each ask separately will be much easier to follow.
  • If you have to document a large-scale process, such as the creation of a company’s product from conception to sale, only use simple names to refer to each task within that process. If necessary, use additional documents to explain each task in more detail.

 

  1. Break down the big picture into sub-processes – Sub-processes are the key tasks that are performed during the process. If you are not intimately familiar with the process you are documenting,interviewproject managers or other experts in this process to get a good understanding of the tasks involved.
  • In general, if a step in your document includes more than one verb, or the word “and,” it can likely be broken down into two steps. For example, “Place bun and meat patty on grill” should be broken down into “Place meat patty on grill” and “Place bun on grill.”

 

  1. Decide whether the process is simple enough for a text documentIf your process is similar every time, and involves only a couple of decisions or variations, you might want to simply write out the steps in a list. Use an electronic text document (such as a Microsoft Word file) or a sheet of lined paper.

 

4.Consider making a flowchart-  A simple flowchart is an easy way to display the process visually, as described in a later section on this page. There are ways to construct more complicated flowcharts as well, but these are not required for most processes. Consider following the instructions in the section on complex flowcharts only if your process has more than ten steps and you have more than three people performing different steps of the process.

 

  1. Keep it short when possibleOne page is ideal, but even for complicated processes, try to pare it down to 5 pages or fewer. Only specialized and complex tasks should require longer documents, and even then only if the document is being used by the actual people performing them.
  • For instance, if the document is intended to guide doctors diagnosing cancer, you will likely mention every diagnostic test that can be used. However, if the same process is being documented to present to executives, create a shorter document that leaves out the more detailed steps, such as deciding which setting to use on a particular machine.
  • Remove adjectives from the names of tasks. These titles should be clear and short. For instance, write “Send bill to customer,” not“Send complete bill for all services to the customer that ordered the product.”

 


6.
Include visuals if they help make the process easier to read- Some people understand visual representations better than reading text, especially if they are executives, managers, or other people who may not have hands-on experience in the process you are documenting. These can be diagrams, photographs, or screenshots, but keep them simple and clear.

  • Include diagrams or images on the side only if it is necessary to understand a term in the process document. For example, if the process document requires the reader to identify the difference between two types of machines, provide clear diagrams or images of these machines.
  • Do not include clip art or other images that are only there for fun.

 

7.Refer to people by title, not name-  The document may outlast an individual. Don’t write “Send meeting minutes to Carol.” Write “Send meeting minutes to the chairman.”[1] If you think the name is necessary so readers know who to contact, include both the name and the job title.

 

  1. Make it clear how processes connect to each otherFor example, a process document for “Arranging the Newsletter” might end with a note “The end result is sent to editing. See the document titled Editing the Newsletter.” The document titled Editing the Newsletter may begin with the note “This is preceded by Arranging the Newsletter.” and end with “This is now sent to publication. See the document titled Publishing the Newsletter.”

 

9.Make documents editable and accessible – Make copies available for people to read or study. Keep an electronic master document in an editable format so changes can be made if necessary.[2]

  • PDF documents are not editable. If you use specialized diagram-creation software, it may have a different, unique file format for saving editable files. Other people will probably need to download or purchase the same software before they can edit that document.
  • For text-only process documents, use a common file format such as .doc, .docx, .txt, or .rtf. If you anticipate the document changing frequently, use an online file hosting service such as Google Docs so people will always see the latest version.

10..Label process documents carefullyWrite the date created and the date last edited in an obvious location on each document, such as the top of the page. If multiple people are editing the document, you may wish to put your name or initials next to the last edited date. Finally, include a title and file name that clearly communicates which process is documented.

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