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Productivity / Processes

How to create effective business process documents

Process documents are an incredibly useful resource for small businesses. Here’s how to ensure your business documents work harder for you.

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Business procedures and other documents, such as policies and forms, assist with training, help manage business continuity and enable better business consistency. But if the documents are too complex, poorly maintained or difficult to access – they might not be useful at all. Keep these tips in mind, and your documents will achieve their intended results.  

1. Keep it simple

Consider who will be using your procedures, as this will determine your writing style. If the procedure will be used by team members without a technical background, then your document is not the place to use complex language, technical terms and detailed explanations. Consider representing the process simply as a flowchart or diagram. 

If your end user is performing a very complex process and needs to be aware of any background technical information to assist with troubleshooting, you might include web links to this information, or indicate where a supplementary document can be found that covers what they need to know. A procedure with too much information creates confusion. 

2. Less is more

While it may seem like the more small business process documents you have the more control you will have over your processes, there comes a point where documents transition from being a valuable and effective tool for your business to becoming a burden. The more documents you have, the more time is required to review and update them. 

"A procedure with too much information creates confusion."

When someone suggests a new document is required, ask yourself, “Do we really need another document?” It may be possible that an existing document could be amended to include the new process. 

If your employees comprise of mainly professionals, you may require fewer documents than if tasks are being performed by employees with limited education and skills. Do you really need three procedures covering how to answer the phone? Use common sense to guide your decisions. 

Want more articles like this? Check out the processes section.

3. Make documents accessible

Paper-based document management systems are effective, but they carry with them a large administrative burden. With today’s more mobile workforce, paper-based systems also have limited use away from the workplace. I would suggest using an Electronic Quality Management System – it will make documents accessible whether team members are in the workplace, out on-site, in their home office or travelling overseas. 

4. Fresh eyes give a fresh perspective

New employees are often seen as a burden to a business, as they require a large time and training investment to get them up to speed. On the other hand, they can also be very useful, as they see your business with fresh eyes. New employees are in a great position to evaluate the effectiveness of your procedures and may have some suggestions to improve your current documentation. 

Alternatively, consultants can provide a professional assessment of your systems, make recommendations to address areas for improvement and provide assistance to enhance your existing systems and make them more effective. 

5. What’s mine is yours

In small businesses with a range of employees at different levels of responsibility, managers are often the “owner” of a particular procedure or group of documents. This term often creates a “hands off, it’s mine” mentality, whether that is the intent or not. To be effective, documents need to be understood and reviewed by all who will use them, including the facility to provide improvement suggestions for future versions of a document. These should not be seen as a challenge to the “owner” but rather as an affirmation of the importance that these documents play in the workplace. 

Whether you have just started documenting your business processes or you have a very mature documentation system, keep these ideas in mind and they’ll help you develop more effective documents. 

For tips on creating business procedures, click here. 

What tips to you have for creating effective small business process documents?

Mary Gardam

is the Principal Quality Advisor at LogiQA. She has held a number of senior quality roles but is now enjoying introducing small business to the benefits of business systems. Mary also lectures in Quality Systems at Griffith University.

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