How to Create Process Documentation

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“Tribal Knowledge” is defined as any unwritten information that your business, team, group or tribe uses to achieve its goals. The problem with tribal knowledge is when you lose key members of the tribe, the knowledge goes away with them. When you document your company's procedures or process, you can protect this knowledge and quickly bring new members up to speed. Understanding the need for documenting "Tribal Knowledge" is an important element of creating these documents.

Define Your Deliverables

Create a "Scope Statement" by writing a simple statement that identifies everything which is to be included in this documentation project. Clearly identify the specific process that will be documented. State whether the process documentation reflects how the process actually works today or defines how the process should work in the future.

Create a "Ownership Matrix" which shows who owns the process or who owns which parts of the process. This matrix can be as simple as an organizational chart or a process-flow diagram which clearly identifies the owners and the owners' contact information.

Identify the specific products or services which are being documented. This is typically a list which includes all or the pertinent information such as the model number, part number and description.

Describe the roles of those involved in the process. Provide a clear explanation based on job title and not individual capabilities. Explain what this position does and how it fits into the process. This can be a single document listing the job title and description or a complete job description for each key position in the process being documented.

Document each step of the process, from beginning to end, by creating a "Process Flow" diagram or chart. Typically a high-level flow chart is created showing the major steps of the process and a low-level flow chart documents the process steps which are subordinate to each of the major steps.

Create appropriate "Policies and Procedures" documentation for each step of the process. As you explore the process with interviews and research, these policies and procedures will emerge. Keep detailed notes, which will serve as the foundation for creating these policy and procedure documents.

Include a document in your deliverables that provides an explanation of the internal "Document Management" process. This document should explain how company documents are reviewed and approved, and distributed and archived within the company.

Create the Documents

Inventory the existing documents to obtain a clear understanding of what currently is in place. You don't have to reinvent the wheel by creating new documents if the same information is covered in existing documents. Identify which of these documents are usable and can be built upon, and which documents are obsolete. With a completed inventory of existing documents, you'll know what documents are missing and must be created. Generate an overall list of documents showing the status of every document as existing, obsolete or new. Have this "Inventory" in hand prior to your first meeting with the top manager.

Create the "Ownership Matrix" by reviewing anything that is already available, like existing organizational charts and company directories. Have this "Ownership Matrix" in hand prior to your first meeting with the top manager.

Meet with the top manager and review your "Inventory" and "Ownership Matrix." The goal of this meeting isn't only to get the top manager to vet your research, but to approve it and agree with your plan. Be prepared for this meeting and don't waste the top manager's time.

Meet with each department head after you've made all of the top manager’s changes to your "Inventory" and "Ownership Matrix." The goal of these department-head meetings is to bring that department head up-to-speed on what you're doing and initiate discussions on each department head's role and the process steps which they own. Take detailed notes or record the meeting so that you don't miss anything. As you move forward through these department-head meetings, the process will emerge and start to solidify.

Update all of the deliverables on a continual basis as you receive the new or more accurate information from each department head. After your last department-head meeting, you should have fleshed out about half of your deliverables.

Meet with the appropriate supervisors, top craftsmen and others involved in the process to clarify what is really going on in that step of the process. These people will be identified by their department head during your interview. These hands-on people are typically more knowledgeable in the step by step, day to day, procedures in their area of responsibility than their respective department head. Again, take detailed notes and do everything possible to be prepared before meeting with these folks so that you minimize the time that you're taking out of their busy day.

Complete your first draft of all of your documents. This is called a first draft but these documents should still be fully complete based on all of the information that you've obtained to date.

Distribute your first draft documents, clearly marked as first draft, to the respective department heads and subordinates for their review. Give them time to completely review these documents and asked them to redline any changes.

Initiate a second round of individual meetings with the same department heads and subordinates to review all of the red lines and prepare for your final draft of these documents.

Complete all of the red-line revisions. Pay close attention to changes in one step, which may affect the previous or subsequent step, and change those documents, procedures or flow steps accordingly. Submit this final draft to the respective department heads and subordinates for their final review. Submit the entire final draft concurrently to the top manager for the top manager’s review.

Make the final revisions and submit these revised documents back to the initiator for final approval. There may be numerous back and forth revisions prior to final approval. You need each subordinate and department head to give you full approval on the documents, or portions of the documents, which directly relate to their area of responsibility. However, your documentation isn't considered approved until the top manager has reviewed and approved it.


  • Interviews can be delicate as you are interrupting someone's workday. Be prepared for these interviews by having the pertinent materials available, such as the "Process Flow Chart" or other documents that will help the interview move forward. Be personable and always treat everyone with the same dignity and respect that you expect for yourself. Be efficient and keep the interview focused on the specific goal of the meeting.



About the Author

Frank Gates started writing technical documents in 1980 as part of his telecommunications job. He is now a full-time technical writer. Gates has published two books, "Motorcycle Rider Basics" and "The Absolute Supervisor." He earned a technical diploma in electronic communications from the DeVry Institute of Technology.

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