4 Reasons Why You NEED Good Internal Documentation
Well, here we are again. Documentation. In the past, we’ve written about the importance of good product documentation in the modern world as well as tips for improving your technical writing. But the benefits of good documentation and communication don’t stop at user manuals. Here at DCD, we cannot stress the importance of up to date documentation enough, not just for clients, but for employees as well. Successful companies find ways to create and share effective standard operating procedures, policy change notices, and business metrics. But what is it about internal documentation that makes it so darn essential?
The saying “if it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen,” is often repeated in professional spaces, and with good reason. Documentation provides a written account of things as they happen, or very soon after. This is especially important in regards to legal matters, audits, or disputes. You see, human memory isn’t perfect, and the more time passes, the more details become confused and hazy. Writing down an account of any significant event, whether they are incidents, or even just standard meetings, preserves the details in a concrete manner that can be referenced at a later date.
It’s also helpful for maintaining rules and responsibility! Having a written outline of expectations and consequences for failure to adhere to company policy means that there are no surprises when problems do arise. On top of that, it provides a tangible form of support for people who may be affected by a problem; having the rules posted can help someone feel more comfortable reporting an incident if they know the company policy.
Keeping Track of Progress
When you get stuck in a rut, it’s easy to lose sight of all the progress you’ve made, not to mention the goal you’re aiming for. While task lists are a more personal form of documentation, encouraging all your employees and team members to use them can have tremendous benefits across the company. For example, keeping a record of the tasks you’ve performed and the ones that still need to be accomplished can keep you headed in the right direction when things seem otherwise chaotic. Keeping a list can also help you prioritize what tasks are important and need to be done before others. Additionally, having a task written down can provide a sense of accountability, motivating you get your work done.
Maintaining documentation for these five things is essential to keeping your company running smoothly. Image courtesy of advisera.com
It’s also a good idea to maintain a public task list with more general goals and progress reports. We discussed this topic in an earlier blog post about developer productivity, but the concept still holds true; publishing metrics will keep your team on track, regardless of the industry you’re in. Not only that, but it leads to better transparency and efficiency within the company, allowing everyone to know who is responsible for what and eases the burden of communicating with project partners and colleagues.
Fast and Effective Training
Internal documentation doesn’t just mean incident reports and meeting notes. Being prepared with guides and answers regarding business and operating procedures makes new hire training streamlined and efficient. Having checklists can help keep track of a new hire’s progress, and quick reference sheets will help them find the information they need. Additionally, having documentation facilitates the transfer of knowledge; instead of having to tie up another employee’s time with training, new hires can acquire the information they need independently, and at their own pace.
Here at DCD, we’ve put together several documents regarding standard operation procedures, to help with onboarding our new hires. We have operating guides not only for the software that we use, but also guides that discuss topics including how to write customer documentation, how to navigate our file system, and how to request time off. Some companies make the mistake of assuming their processes are self explanatory and don’t need documentation, but even “simple” practices can vary greatly from company to company. By having them written down, new hires can be sure they’re following *your* process, and won’t feel like they’re trying to make it up as they go.
Ease of Access
Four more reasons you should be keeping up your documentation. Image courtesy of pwc.com
New hires aren’t the only ones who need information on company policy, products, or procedures. Even employees who have been at the company for years may need to look up information regarding company or project protocol. Like I said before, the human memory is fallible, and if you aren’t practicing a skill on a regular basis, well, there’s a reason we say “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Having documentation on hand gives employees a quick, easy way to refresh their memory.
This also means that your employees will spend more time working, and less time tied up in troubleshooting. With up to date internal documentation, as well as unified systems to share it, employees can look up information on their own without spending lengthy periods of time on the phone with support, or having to search the office for the right person to answer their question. This is especially valuable when The Right Person happens to be on vacation, or if they’ve recently left the company. If they’ve left behind good documentation, work operations can continue without having to wait for them to return or be replaced.
At the end of the day, internal documentation isn’t just about providing instruction manuals for your company’s products or services; it’s a means of communication. While it may feel like it’s incredibly time-consuming, boring piece of paperwork that nobody is going to read, it’s actually something that is essential to keeping any business running smoothly. When it’s available, thorough, and well written, people will read what is necessary to know how to do their jobs correctly. And if you want to be able to run your organization as smoothly as possible, knowing is half the battle.