What is Business Process Documentation?

Coffee and Business Process Documentation

Here is everything you need to know about Process Documentation

Business process documentation is the process of outlining a detailed description of how a process needs to be executed. In this article, we will look for answers to questions like - Why should you document processes? What happens when you don't document processes? What are the types of process documents? Why is it important?


How do you like your cup of coffee (or tea) every morning? There are so many ways to make a refreshing cup of coffee, but there is only one way to make 'your' cup of coffee - the one that hits your soul. 
A great cup of coffee | Processology
There are specific steps you follow to make it right - maybe you add two scoops of sugar or half a cup of creamer, or you like to make it simple like me. Which is black coffee of course! 
But imagine someone else making 'your' cup of coffee for you one morning, and it just doesn't taste right. How you wish you would have given them clear instructions, like:
  1. Wash the coffee mug
  2. Brew the coffee pod
  3. Add a scoop of sugar
  4. Add three tablespoons of French Vanilla creamer
These instructions would have made it easy to follow and get the exact outcome you had wished for! 
The same logic applies to business processes. When you don't document how a process needs to be executed, it causes mayhem - confusion, risks, unexpected outcomes, and ultimately unhappy clients. You don't want that.
Business process documentation plays a critical role in the success of your organization. Although it is a lot more complex than writing instructions to make a cup of coffee, it does add immense value to your business operations. 
Process documentation includes a lot more than how a process is executed. It includes:
  • Who is involved in the process?
  • What do you need to execute the process? 
  • What is the required outcome of the process? 
  • Who is responsible for each activity in the process?
In this article, we will talk about everything process documentation. We will also look at the definitions, benefits, and types of process documentation in a business. 

Table of Content

What is Business Process Documentation?

Business process documentation is defined as the process of outlining detailed step-by-step guidelines to execute a process. It is a technique undertaken by businesses to make their processes learnable, viewable, and improvable. It primarily focuses on answering the question - 'how is the process implemented?'
A business is nothing but a set of interrelated processes - like a mesh, all focused on producing a valuable outcome. Each process has its guidelines that need to be documented together in one place. This way, they are all stored together and are accessible to anyone who is involved in the process execution. 
Imagine the process of raising a ticket to your tech support team for assistance on fixing your system. The tech support team has a set process of responding to the ticket for confirmation, allocating the ticket to a team member, fixing the issue, and sending a notification of ticket closure. 
Now if this process wasn't documented, imagine the chaos - nobody confirms the ticket, four tech guys are talking to you about the same issue, the issue isn't fixed but the ticket is closed. WOW!
This is a classic example of spending unnecessary time, effort, and resources on a simple task. This can all be avoided if the process is documented step-by-step in a process document, and not in your employees' heads! 
Strategic documentation of processes is the key to successful business operations. It eliminates unpredictability and frustrations to bring clarity and uniformity to your business processes. It acts as a reference document for your employees whenever there is a lack of clarity, or a teammate is out sick, or on the beach sipping Margaritas!

Why Should You Document Business Processes? (Benefits)

A business has various advantages of documenting business processes. Some show an immediate impact on day-to-day operations, while the others come in handy in the big picture. 
Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that documenting business processes is an integral part of business operations - which is why 96% of companies have invested in some kind of process documentation (as stated by a survey on BPM trends). 
Let us look at the key reasons why you should document your business processes:
  1. It allows you to standardize your processes - Standardizing processes is a primary goal of business process documentation. It eliminates variations in the process execution tasks, thus reducing the risk of unpredictable outcomes from the process.

    Process documentation outlines the activities that are tried and tested to achieve the best possible outcome by the business. Everyone across the business is expected to follow these guidelines for the process execution. Standardizing process by documenting them has its benefits, such as:
    • consistent execution of every business process
    • compliance of rules and regulations that apply to the process
    • smooth functioning of interrelated processes
    • reduces time spent on brainstorming alternate solutions
    • less burnout for you and your employees due to disorganized processes
    • reduced stress and anxiety for you and your team thanks to structured and systemized processes
  2. It establishes a culture of accountability - According to Partners In Leadership, over 90% of employees consider accountability as one of their organization’s top development needs.

    Process documentation cultivates a sense of accountability and ownership for each employee, team, or department who is a part of the process.

    There is no room left for ambiguity when it comes to holding people or teams responsible for activities. If you do not document your process, you won't know who to reach out to when there is an unexpected incident. It contributes to the increase of responsibility and efficiency in your processes, that in turn lead to: 
    • boost in employee engagement and satisfaction
    • more clarity of the bigger picture within the organization
    • better operations, better living!
    • increase in business revenue due to satisfied, responsible, and motivated employees
    • less worrying about blame games and lack of responsibility
  3. Training new employees becomes easier - When a new employee is onboarded to your team, you assign them projects that have set processes. If these processes are not documented, there are chances you might miss out on sharing important details, procedures, or files to carry out activities that are part of the process.

    Business process documentation is an excellent solution to implement smooth employee transitions. This hands-on training guide allows lower risks of dropping the ball when a new team member is onboarded, a teammate is on vacation or our sick. When you document processes and training guides, you ultimately:
    • waste less time and effort on training and transition
    • reduce confusion for new employees with a reference document
    • enable faster employee onboarding for new team members
    • exhibit your company culture of productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness to new employees (your first brand ambassadors!)
    • drive employee buy-in with transparent and documented processes that are in sync with your company vision
    • boost employee morale by providing process reference guides and training material that builds confidence within them
  4. It presents an opportunity for process improvement -  Documenting a process lays out all your cards on the table without anything to hide. From procedures to dependencies, it gives you a complete picture of how your process is currently executed. This presents an excellent opportunity for you to find gaps in your processes.

    No matter how well your process produces the outcome, there is always room for improvement. You can make sustainable and timely changes to your process to find a more efficient way to achieve the same or better outcome. Process documents help you:

    • identify frictions in the current process workflow
    • eliminate redundant activities to save valuable time and effort
    • brainstorm for alternative steps that are more effective
    • increase the productivity of employees by improving process cycles

4 Common Frustrations With Undocumented Processes 

We have seen how documenting processes can benefit you by increasing the efficiency and productivity of your business operations. Now let's look at what happens when you do not document your processes.
Here are the common frustrations that businesses face when they fail to document their processes:
Process Mayhem
What happens when you don't have a recipe for the new dessert you were going to try baking for the weekend? You don't know how much butter to add, or how long to pre-heat the oven, or how long do you let it rest before you dig into it. 
Of course, you can improvise based on your baking experience, but will it get the exact outcome you were hoping for every time? That's hard to say. Again, this is a cake recipe, where you can compromise on the taste. But you cannot do that when it comes to your business processes.  
Business Process Documentation list down all the activities required to produce a specific business outcome. A slight change in the execution of any activity in the process can lead to major flaws in the outcome. This is why documenting processes is critical to successful business operations. 
Failing to document processes can lead to:
  • missing of steps and activities in the process
  • incorrect execution of the process
  • variations in the process or outcomes
  • involvement of the wrong people/teams/departments in the process
  • longer working hours and burnouts due to lack of detailed references to the right execution methods
  • missing out on things that matter - planned vacations, movie nights with family, practice sessions with kids
All these contingencies directly impact your business operations, performance, and customer experience.
Unnecessary Utilization of Resources
When your processes are not documented, there is a lack of clarity in the execution of the process. You end up spending a lot more time, and effort in getting things right. 
If you're operating with a flat tire, you may still accomplish your mission. However, it's going to take more time, resources, and revenue than it should. - Michael D. Wilson | Founder @ Processology
Process documents store all the information required for a process in one place, that is accessible to everyone involved in the process. If the documentation does not exist, it may lead to confusion, to-and-fro communication, unnecessary mail threads, and unnecessary utilization of other valuable resources.
Unnecessary utilization of your valuable resources leads to an increase in your operational costs. 
Employee/Customer Dissatisfaction
Process documentation, as we discussed earlier, is a key driver of accountability and ownership. Accountability and ownership in process execution promote employee satisfaction.
Lack of process documentation can lead to confusion, irresponsibilities, and blame games. This has a direct impact on employee satisfaction.
Again, employee satisfaction directly affects employee productivity and business operations, leading to inconsistent business outcomes. If your outcomes do not create business value, you will see an increase in customer dissatisfaction. It is a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction that can be improved and controlled by documenting your processes. 
Missed Opportunity to Improve Processes
Process documentation outlines every aspect of your business process. You can pinpoint every gap in your process, as well as an opportunity to increase the efficiency of the process.  
The lack of business process documentation can cost you an opportunity to fill the gaps within your processes, or improve their effectiveness. Process documentation helps you evaluate your processes and determine whether your processes are efficient or if certain steps need to be eliminated or revised to perform better operations. 

Types of Business Process Documentation

While there are various types of process documents, we have listed down the primary types of process documentations used across businesses:
Process Maps
Process maps are sometimes classified as a part of process documentation, while at times they are considered as independent entities. 
Process maps are defined as the visual representation of a process workflow using icons, diagrams, and flowcharts. They play a critical role in understanding the overlaps of multiple processes. 
Process Library
A process library is a database of process documentation that includes process maps, instructions, procedures, and everything else related to business processes.
Let us take an example of a business system that needs to be compliant with the HIPAA regulations. In this case, all the process documentation needs to be stored together in one place so that it is accessible immediately without any hassle. The absence of such documentation may raise the issue of compliance and regulations. 
Process Training Documents
Training documents serve the purpose of training and onboarding new employees, team members, partners, as well as departments for your processes. 
The documents act as reference material to avoid confusion, ambiguity, and wasting of time and effort. They are excellent resources for employees when an accountable team member is out sick, or on vacation.
Process Checklists
A checklist, like the name suggests, is a list of all the to-do's in the execution of a process. It lists down all the activities that need to be performed for the complete execution of a process or procedure.
It is a full-proof list of all the tasks that are needed to complete a process. These tasks can be determined only when a process is executed multiple times to find the best possible combination of tasks. 
Process Document Templates
Process document templates are documents that are created to describe some elements of the business process, process workflow, process state, or process solution. They act as standardized process documents used across the business in various projects, processes, and functions.
Process templates can be reused for the documentation of any business process as it follows the best practices of business process documentation.

Bringing It All Together

Business process documentation is vital to the sustainability and growth of your organization. It is a function of Business Process Management (BPM). Without process documentation, you are leading your employees, teams, and departments into a state of disarray. Document your processes to operate your business better, and in turn, live better.
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