Choosing the right topic for the first article in a blog that aims to be a source of valuable insight and guidance is a tough task. It is true that there are definite and meaningful relationships between all the business areas served by Digital Phoenix, as listed in the menu above, but they’re also quite different, each distinct from the others. Which of these should be the subject of my first post?
As I contemplated this and recalled lessons learned during past and present customer engagements, one topic really did stand out. Something crucial and universally essential, yet so often overlooked or under served.
Useful, accurate, uncluttered, consistent, adequate, appropriate, and available documentation. Yes, all those adjectives are needed because they describe different qualities that should all be met; they impart a lot more meaning to you than simply saying “effective documentation”.
It seems that many organisations are far too casual about creating and maintaining documentation of their systems, policies, processes, and procedures. The executives have not adequately set out precise and detailed guidance for all critical activities and the business runs more like a grown-up version of the “broken telephone” game we played as children than the strategic and tactical masterpiece they want it to be.
Here are seven actionable points that may help you:
- If you haven’t already done so, start by focusing on the essential documentation which describes the most critical responsibilities, processes, procedures or rules of your business; things that will cause the greatest damage (physical harm, financial loss, embarrassment, loss of market share, etc.) if they are forgotten or performed poorly.
- Especially consider putting along side these the procedures, rules and other matters, that are complicated or dealt with infrequently. Think about it, a simple three step task that gets done every day is easy to remember and easy to communicate to others. Complicated processes with dozens of steps, or something that is only done once or twice a year is very easy to get wrong or forget altogether. If you’ve taken the time once to figure out exactly how to do it, you should write it down immediately so that when you return to it in the future , it can be undertaken quickly and efficiently without the expense of research and errors while figuring it all out a second time.
- Broad and comprehensive documentation does not happen over night. However far you may have already progressed with documenting everything that matters, try and get in to the habit of immediately documenting every new rule, process, system, etc. as soon as it becomes a part of your business activity. Not only will it help convey your exact expectations to your whole team, it serves as another section in what will become your comprehensive documentation set, protecting your investment in intellectual property, planning, and R&D.
- Most business documentation, especially that which relates to policies, processes, standards, and procedures, should be undertaken by personnel who have a broad grasp of the business vision, have the authority to set company direction, and understand the implications of every written word. As such this is not something that can be delegated to the junior staff as a learning exercise or assigned to an intern on temporary attachment. This work, getting these documents in place to clearly communicate company posture and expectations, is arguably the most important work the senior management and executive team have to do. If this is done right, everything else becomes simpler. If this is done badly, nothing else succeeds as it should.
- In those situations where important company knowledge exists only in the mind of a particular person or few people, warning bells should ring loudly. It is essential that this be urgently and accurately captured in an accessible manner to ensure the knowledge is preserved and the company cannot be held to ransom by a disgruntled employee. Also try to establish how such situations came to exist and take suitable measures to prevent it happening again.
- No piece of documentation remains eternally accurate and precise. Methods and circumstances change and capable companies adapt. When this happens, documentation must be updated to reflect the new status quo and communicated to all whom it affects.
- Even when no such deliberate changes are made, it is prudent to periodically review all documentation to ensure that it remains relevant. Sometimes, this may even draw your attention to situations where work is being done incorrectly.
When it comes to business documentation, organisations of different sizes will certainly have differing needs, but I wager that at least one of the items above resonates with you about your organisation.