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The importance of documentation (because it’s way more than a formality)

Put an end to information hoarding and set the stage for open communication.

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Your team is starting a project that’s new to all of you. You heard through the grapevine that your company successfully tackled something similar just a couple of years ago. The only problem? Nobody on your current team was actually around during that time. 

Those people have since moved on, and now you’re left wondering how to bridge this knowledge gap. It feels an awful lot like closing your eyes and throwing a dart at a board.

Now, imagine instead if you had resources that you could turn to. What if that previous team had kept detailed records like project timelines and plans, meeting summaries, step-by-step processes, sketches, roadmaps, and more? 

If that was the case, you’d be equipped with a well of valuable information that you could draw from. Even if you ended up doing things somewhat differently, at least you’d feel like you had an educated starting point. Suddenly that new project wouldn’t seem quite so daunting. 

This is just one of many examples that speak to the importance of documentation on your team. Yet, despite the fact that stressful situations like these happen all the time, many organizations still view documentation as an optional formality. According to a BPTrends survey, only 4% of companies claim that they always document their processes.

Only 4% of companies always document their processes

We get it – documentation feels like yet another thing to add to your team’s to-do list. However, it offers a slew of advantages that make it well worth the time and effort.

What is internal documentation?

Internal documentation refers to the records that your organization keeps and uses to inform decisions within your company. You can document pretty much anything from schedules to important policies, which means there are tons of different types of documentation out there. But, they tend to fall into one of three main types of documentation: team documentation, reference documentation, and project documentation.

The importance of documentation (i.e. why should you care about this?)

We get it. You are busy, which means recording things like decisions, statuses, and steps for handling repetitive tasks probably doesn’t rank near the top of your to-do list. 

When the rubber hits the road, documentation will be one of those things that you’ll be glad that you did. Whether a team member is unexpectedly absent or you aren’t sure how to move forward with an unfamiliar initiative, those records will be an undeniably handy resource.

Need more help convincing your team? Here are a few key benefits you can share to illustrate why documentation should be a priority moving forward.

1. A single source of truth saves time and energy

Estimates state that the average knowledge worker spends about two and a half hours per day searching for the information they need. Effective documentation collects all of the must-know information about a task, project, or team (from account logins to step-by-step instructions) in a centralized, organized place. No more digging through email or downloaded files for the latest information.

When you’re handing off a task, planning for a new project, or need to have a different team member step in on something, documentation means you’re able to keep the gears turning without spending hours trying to track down details, credentials, directions, and more.

Writing down your processes is helpful for spotting bottlenecks and bloated workflows, so you can further streamline the way your team works.

2. Documentation is essential to quality and process control

There’s more than one way to get things done, and you want to give your team the flexibility to approach their work in a way that suits them best. 

But, at the same time, you want to ensure consistent results – especially when it comes to things that you’re producing on a regular basis. There needs to be some level of cohesion so that you don’t look sloppy or uninformed. 

Documentation encourages knowledge sharing, which empowers your team to understand how processes work and what finished projects typically look like. 

With those resources in hand, your team members don’t need to be mind readers to maintain consistency of repeated projects like that monthly report or that quarterly presentation. They still have wiggle room to get creative while confirming that they’re checking all of the must-have boxes.

3. Documentation cuts down duplicative work

How many times have you started a new project only to find out it had been done before? Companies that use documentation to catalog past projects, collect research, and share decisions benefit by reducing re-work that wastes precious time you could be using elsewhere. 

Why reinvent the wheel when you can just build on the work that’s already happened? With documentation in place, you can refer to past work and learn from it, instead of doing it all over again with the same results.

4. It makes hiring and onboarding so much easier

It’s tough to think about anybody leaving, but the reality of business is that your team won’t stay the same forever. People will hit the road and you’ll bring some new people into the fold. 

When you’re welcoming new team members, that onboarding period can be daunting, both for your existing team and for that new employee. And, unfortunately, Gallup found that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their organization does a great job of onboarding new workers.

You want to educate and empower team members to do their best work, rather than making them feel like they’re thrown to the wolves. 

If you prioritize documentation, they’ll have all sorts of helpful guides, directions, and notes that they can refer to as they get up to speed in their new roles. Plus, they can use those resources to answer their questions and start to figure things out independently, rather than feeling like they need to ping someone on your team with every single question or sticking point.

5. A single source of truth makes everyone smarter

At work, we tend to treat our knowledge as currency. If we’re the person with all of the answers, it provides us a sense of security, as if we’re the most irreplaceable person on our team. We assume that sharing our expertise will make us less valuable.

That’s why it’s little surprise that one survey found that 60% of employees have had a difficult time getting their colleagues to share information that is vital to their work. 

Documentation increases the collective knowledge of everyone that you work with. When it becomes the norm on your team to share information, you’ll benefit from increased transparency and a culture that’s more collaborative and strategic. You’ll make smarter decisions because essential information won’t be locked away on just one person’s hard drive - or worse yet - their head.

Documentation should be your best friend

From covering an unexpected departure or absence of an employee to tackling an unfamiliar project, you’ll be able to make it over plenty of daunting hurdles together.

While it might sound stiff and formal, prioritizing documentation means you and your team will develop a stockpile of information that you’ll lean on. 

Share the above advantages with your team members, find a way to incentivize their participation in documenting what they can (pizza party, anyone?), and rest easy knowing that your team’s knowledge will no longer live just in their brains.

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