• Kurt Schmidt

3 Signs That It’s Time to Start Documenting Your Processes

On a call a few days ago, a dear friend and fellow business owner asked me one of the most common questions I hear from businesses experiencing growing pains.

How do you know it’s time to start documenting your business processes?

As anyone who has ever managed a business or a team has learned, flexibility is critical to figuring out what works; there is a lot of trial and error involved. In the 4 years since its founding, everything about my friend’s business – from her website copy to her service offerings – has evolved to suit her niche audience. She was well aware that flexibility was important, but also recognized that there were aspects of her business that were no longer works-in-progress and, more importantly, there was a mountain of tedious information she wanted to exist in a place outside of her head!

As someone who’s entire career is based on helping people create processes, I will be the first to say there is such things as too much process and too much documentation. For my friend’s 1-person business, it wouldn’t make sense to have a 50-page step-by-step manual for how she does all of her work.

When do you NEED to document?

Here are 3 indicators that you need get a process in writing:

1) Someone else will be doing the work. If you are going to be delegating or outsourcing a task to someone else, or training more people in how to do that task, you’ll need to define 1) what you expect them to do, and 2) how they need to do it. This makes sure the task continues to be done the way you want.

2) You have a recurring task that still drives you crazy. You know this feeling: “how did I do this last time?” We all have those tedious recurring tasks that always trip us up, whether it’s not being able to find the right link to file your quarterly tax payments, reinventing the wheel every time you need to format the monthly newsletter, or forgetting the steps of onboarding a new client. Even just writing down short bullet points or a quick checklist with the steps will save you loads of time and frustration!

3) You discover a better way to complete a recurring task. The trial and error approach to learning how to do your work yield a goldmine of information about what works and what doesn’t: this is how any business or team starts building up institutional knowledge. Keeping track of how your business processes grow and evolve not only helps you avoid making same mistakes again in future, often these lessons learned can be applied to other aspects of your business as well.

In all of these scenarios, the documentation itself serves a purpose, and won’t just sit on a shelf (or in a e-file) collecting dust. It doesn’t need to be anything complicated or technical; a checklist, a simple flow chart or diagram (check out miro for some great mapping templates), or even a screenshot or video may be all you need. For the documentation to be effective, it only needs to 1) make sense to you (and any other users) and 2) be saved in a place that is easy to access and hard to forget. You are essentially creating trail markers for yourself, with just enough information so you can follow the same path the next time, and every time, you repeat the task.

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