Process documentation: The ultimate how-to with examples

Team Asana contributor imageTeam Asana
February 19th, 2024
10 min read
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Summary

Looking to execute a new process but aren’t sure how to get started? We have you covered. Process documentation is a detailed description of how to execute a process, and it outlines the exact steps needed to complete a task from start to finish.

Creating a detailed document can align teamwork around process objectives and encourage organizational clarity. As a team leader, you have the opportunity to define which fields and functions best fit your team—from identifying process boundaries to documenting process steps.

Let’s go over the purpose of process documentation, how to create one (with examples), and the benefits of implementing it for your team.

What is process documentation?

Process documentation is an internal, living document that details the tasks and steps needed to launch a new process.

From something as simple as onboarding new hires to bigger goals like changing team structure, it’s important to properly document and track the progress of new processes.

Developing process documentation is a key aspect of business process management; it streamlines and enhances your standard operating procedures, or SOPs. You might discover a variety of different processes in your organization, ranging from deploying new tools to managing customer-facing communications.

Beyond keeping teams aligned, process documentation serves as a roadmap for team members, which helps clarify the steps needed to create a new process. It also acts as a step-by-step tutorial, eliminating confusion and serving as a reference for team members on completing tasks efficiently.

Create a project documentation blueprint

Process documentation vs. process mapping

While the two terms sound similar, there are some key differences between process documentation and process mapping.

The main difference between the two is each system’s layout. Process documentation focuses on creating a written document outlining key details, while process mapping focuses on visualizing the process. And while process documentation does include a visual representation, it’s quite different from the in-depth visual of a process map.

How to create a process document

From initial scope to testing and reviewing, there are eight steps you can follow to create a process document.

How to create a process document

Each phase aims at not only documenting but also identifying areas for process improvement to increase efficiency. We’ll go through these eight steps and highlight the key components that you should include in your process document.

1. Scope the initial process

In the first step, the project manager scopes the initial information and creates a brief description based on goals, timeline, and priority. This is done by reviewing the objectives and documenting them in a business case.

Include the following in your process scope:

  • Key objectives: Consider what key performance indicators or business objectives your process is trying to achieve.

  • Stakeholders: Though you may not know specific individuals just yet, consider which teams will be working together.

  • Timeline: You can estimate the process scope and timeline for completion with the critical path method.

  • Priority: Determine how important this process is to implement compared to other projects and objectives your team is working on.

These factors help to paint a clear picture for stakeholders and the leadership team to quickly understand the process at hand.

2. Define process boundaries

Once you have the initial process information, you can then define boundaries. To do so, outline where the process fits into various teams by identifying the different tasks each team accomplishes. Consider where the process starts and ends and who is affected by it.

Defining these boundaries can help set clear task guidelines when you’re ready to implement the new process. For example, if you’re looking to reduce busywork with process automation, your boundaries might include dedicating your IT team to trigger the process and your operations team to complete the process.

3. Determine process inputs and outputs

The third step involves identifying both the inputs and outputs.

  • Process inputs are the resources needed to complete a process.

  • Process outputs are what you wish to achieve at the end of a process.

Determine your outputs by aligning them with initial project objectives and selecting specific metrics as indicators. For example, if your objective is to spend less time on busywork, one of your outputs might be to automate task reminders. In that same example, your input might be to implement a work management tool.

Determining the inputs and outputs will allow you to break down each of these goals into smaller steps later on.

4. Identify process steps

Now that you’ve gathered the necessary information through process inputs and outputs, it’s time to break your process plan down into small steps. This can be done independently or in a brainstorming session.

Begin by looking at the starting point of the process—in other words, what triggers the process boundaries. In some cases, there will be a dependency that must be completed for the process to begin. For example, in order for task reminders to be automated, the tasks first need to be created.

Once you’ve determined what triggers the process to begin and end, list each of the process steps in sequential order. If there are multiple tasks needed, list each of them within the step. Simplify your steps, using clear headings to focus only on capturing the essential parts of the process.

Each step should be broken into smaller tasks, with each component ideally assigned to one person to ensure accountability and clarity. The next step is to assign responsibilities for each step.

Create a project documentation blueprint

5. Connect with project stakeholders

Once the steps have been laid out, it’s time to break each task down and assign out who is responsible for them. It’s a good idea to include detailed information for each task in the document, like deliverables and timelines. This provides clarity and streamlines communication.

If you need to provide additional task background or context for more complex projects, consider meeting with the team or directing them to the information they need. Refer to your organizational knowledge base for essential information like legal requirements or brand guidelines needed for deliverables.

6. Construct a process flowchart

Now comes the fun part—visualizing your process. One easy way to do this is with a flowchart. Using tools like Lucidchart for creating flowcharts can bring clarity to process documentation, especially for visual learners. You may also benefit from a workflow management tool that allows you to track goals and tasks along the way.

To build an effective flowchart, integrate process steps, inputs, outputs, shared docs, and stakeholder details, complementing these with screenshots for added impact. Then, all you have to do is neatly lay out each step in sequential order.

Here’s an example of a process document flowchart to inspire your own:

How to create a process flowchart

As you can see, each step has a corresponding input and output. Visualizing these steps in a flowchart makes it easy to see which resources and outcomes you can expect. You can also add swim lanes to your diagrams to categorize who is assigned to which tasks. These can be particularly helpful for complex processes.

While each process will look slightly different, it’s important that you connect your steps in order and provide the most important information upfront.

7. Note process flow exceptions

Now that you’ve documented a visual representation of your process flow, note any exceptions that your team may come across. These exceptions come from the fact that not every flow will follow the exact same path.

For example, an exception to the above workflow might be that some tasks don’t need a review, depending on the complexity of the work. In that case, you’ll want to note which scenarios don’t require approval. You should also include the steps your team should take to address these exceptions.

8. Test the process

The final step in the process documentation lifecycle is testing the process to ensure it’s working. While testing, identify where issues arise or where risks are possible and correct those in real time. This is a chance to fine-tune your new process, so make any necessary changes so it can run as smoothly as possible.

Ask questions to uncover any pain points.

  • Did your process flow document solve the problem you were looking to fix?

  • Do you need to implement larger changes in order for your process to run optimally?

Once you’ve worked through the pain points, determine the effectiveness of the process. This is a chance to fine-tune your process so it can run as smoothly as possible.

Finally, conclude by consolidating all process tasks and storing the documentation in a central location for easy access and review.

Create a project documentation blueprint

Process documentation examples

Effective process documentation is critical in various business operations, providing a clear and structured approach to complex tasks and procedures. Below are examples of how process documentation can be effectively implemented in different scenarios, from employee onboarding to customer service protocols.

Onboarding new employees: A checklist-style process

Onboarding new employees is an important process for integrating team members into the company culture and equipping them with necessary tools and knowledge. A checklist process ensures that all essential steps are covered, making the onboarding experience smooth and efficient for both the new hire and the organization.

Pre-arrival preparation

  1. Prepare the workspace and equipment.

  2. Set up email and system accounts.

  3. Organize the necessary training materials.

First day of orientation

  1. Conduct a welcome meeting and office tour.

  2. Introduce new hires to team members and key personnel.

  3. Review company policies and culture.

Role-specific training

  1. Assign a mentor or buddy for initial guidance.

  2. Schedule training sessions for role-related tools and procedures.

  3. Provide access to online training resources.

Documentation and paperwork

  1. Complete employment forms (tax, benefits, etc.).

  2. Sign confidentiality and compliance agreements.

  3. Distribute the employee handbook and related documents.

Ongoing support and integration

  1. Schedule regular check-ins and feedback sessions.

  2. Involve the new employees in team meetings and projects.

  3. Review performance and set goals after the probationary period.

Step-by-step process for customer service protocol

Providing excellent customer service is paramount for any business. A step-by-step process helps ensure that customer service representatives handle inquiries and issues in a consistent, efficient, and empathetic manner, thereby enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty.

1. Greeting and acknowledgment

  • Warmly greet the customer.

  • Acknowledge the customer's issue or query.

2. Understanding the issue

  • Ask clarifying questions to understand the problem fully.

  • Listen actively and empathetically.

3. Providing solutions

  • Offer solutions based on the company's guidelines.

  • If necessary, escalate to a higher authority or specialized department.

4. Closing the interaction

  • Confirm that the customer's issue has been resolved or that the next steps have been clearly communicated.

  • Thank the customer for their patience in choosing your service.

5. Follow-up

  • If applicable, follow up with the customer to ensure their issue remains resolved.

  • Invite feedback on the service provided.

Other examples of process documentation

Process documentation can be applied to a wide range of organizational activities. These examples illustrate the versatility and necessity of well-documented processes in different areas of a company's operations, with each contributing to overall efficiency and success.

Product development lifecycle

  • Idea generation

  • Concept testing

  • Design and development

  • Prototype testing Market launch and evaluation

Software implementation

  • Requirement analysis

  • Software selection

  • Installation and configuration

  • Employee training

  • Ongoing support and updates

Quality assurance process

  • Establishing quality standards

  • Regular inspection and testing

  • Process improvement feedback

  • Compliance monitoring

  • Final quality approval

Incorporating detailed process documentation in these areas helps streamline operations, reduce errors, and ensure a consistent approach to various business functions.

Create a project documentation blueprint

Benefits of process documentation

Documenting processes as soon as possible can help you avoid problems in the long run, whether you choose to follow a shared outline or create an in-depth process flow.

Benefits of process documentation

From eliminating errors to enhancing resource allocation and efficiency, there are four key advantages to process documentation:

Eliminates errors

Business process documentation prevents errors by proactively outlining each step of the process. Regular analysis and optimization of these steps are key to maintaining effective and efficient processes. By proactively documenting your process, you eliminate:

  • Lack of communication: Without proper documentation, communication can be distributed, which results in more work about work.

  • Missed process steps: Without detailed steps, tasks may be confused or overlooked, resulting in an inefficient process.

  • Unclear objectives and outputs: If they don’t understand the purpose of a particular process, team members may be unclear about deliverables or priorities.

The process documentation lifecycle analyzes errors and gives you a system to continually monitor potential bottlenecks throughout the process lifecycle. This step is crucial to establishing effective process documentation, allowing you to modify or eliminate unnecessary steps.

Reduces busywork

The right process document reduces busywork and time spent on work about work since information is presented up front and paired with a visual.

Common roadblocks that process documentation eliminates include:

  • Frequent meetings: A process document can detail the needed information that would otherwise require a meeting. Ineffective meetings waste time and can even increase confusion in select cases.

  • Duplicate work: When tasks are organized correctly the first time, work is less likely to be duplicated.

  • Disorganized communication: Information stored in various locations can lead to disorganized communication.

Reducing these errors helps your team be more productive and focus on the work at hand. You can also go one step further and implement business process automation to eliminate additional busywork.

Streamlines resource allocation

A process document streamlines resource allocation by organizing information into clear steps and connecting them with the resources needed.

This ensures that resources are:

  • Used in the correct way: When teams know which resources to use, they can use them correctly and efficiently.

  • Connected to the right steps: By connecting resources to tasks, it’s clear how and when they should be used.

  • Produce the intended outcome: When resources are allocated properly, they can be used for their intended purpose.

Since misuse of resources can result in overspending, it’s important to correctly map out allocations so your team is prepared with the necessary resources.

Enhances communication

Maintaining a well-organized process document in a shared tool can preempt potential future process issues. This approach, particularly beneficial during employee onboarding, gives all stakeholders access to a shared source of truth that can be viewed at any time.

Enhanced communication can help:

  • Work gets done correctly the first time around: Clear communication reduces the risk of confusion and low-quality work.

  • Create clear process knowledge: Communication can keep teams up to date with new processes.

  • Enhance process maps and standard operating procedures: Communication can clarify information and ensure process maps and procedures align with the original process objectives.

Team communication can be the difference between a good process and a great one, so be sure to communicate up front and frequently in order to create clarity.

Disadvantages of process documentation

While process documentation plays a key role in streamlining and clarifying business operations, it can also have drawbacks if not managed correctly. Here are some of the disadvantages:

  • Risk of information overload: Detailed process documentation can lead to information overload, which can impair decision-making and cause errors.

  • Time consumption and tediousness: Creating a process document is often a detailed and time-consuming task. Although documenting processes is meant to streamline processes, in some cases, it can bog down team efficiency.

  • Hinders agility and innovation: Excessively detailed process guides can be counterproductive in environments that require agility and innovation. Rigid process documents might go out of date quickly, leading to a disconnect between the documented processes and the actual needs of the users or the project.

  • Encourages workarounds: When documentation is perceived as overly cumbersome or impractical, employees might resort to creating workarounds or shortcuts. This can undermine the purpose of the process documentation and lead to inconsistency and potential non-compliance with SOPs.

Despite these challenges, the right process documentation tool can mitigate many of these drawbacks. Asana's process documentation tool is designed to address these issues, offering a streamlined, user-friendly platform that simplifies the creation and maintenance of process documents.

Speed up your progress with process documentation

Adhering to process documentation best practices can optimize improvements and set a standard for future processes. A documented process can help prevent inefficiencies and bottlenecks while preparing team members for successful projects in the future.

Take your process documentation one step further with workflow management software that helps teams streamline processes.

Create a project documentation blueprint

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