Ever been asked to train a colleague? Whether there’s a new hire at your organization or a coworker who’s been around for a while but is unfamiliar with a particular task, it’s likely that at some point, you’ve needed to share what you know.
Creating and maintaining process documentation is helpful for a variety of reasons.
Not only can it save time, but it can help with sharing consistent instructions with multiple people, making sure tasks get done correctly. And it can help prevent bottlenecks in day-to-day operations, by spreading knowledge throughout a team, vs. funneling work through one person, among other benefits.
In this post, we’ll cover the basics of process documentation, provide some best practices, and share a step-by-step guide that will help you document a process in just a few clicks!
What is process documentation?
Process documentation is written content with screenshots, illustrations, diagrams, or other imagery (though it can be in the form of a video, too) which conveys each step throughout a process necessary to successfully complete a particular task.
You can think of it as similar to a how-to guide or set of instructions. It can be useful in several ways.
Train new hires
Process documentation is extremely helpful when you need to train new hires. Making it available to your new teammates lets them help themselves through their onboarding process, versus being completely dependent on their trainer to teach them everything they need to know.
Often when a new employee joins the team, they are filling a vacancy. And when there are vacancies on a team, each member tends to have a bigger workload.
So documenting processes before you feel you need to means less stress and pressure when staff members may already be stretched thin. Of course, you can still create process documentation when you do have an immediate need to train a colleague, too!
Prepare for the unexpected
It helps to document a process within your organization even when there isn’t an immediate need for it.
Doing so can set up a future coworker for success. Similarly to its use with new hire training, you can make the information available on demand, and if the individual who’d normally execute a particular task is out sick, or unexpectedly unavailable, someone else can easily take over.
Provide process transparency
Additionally, documenting a process aids with transparency within an organization. It allows employees who aren’t close to a particular area of the business some insight into tasks outside their immediate team and/or department.
This can, in turn, lead to workflow improvements, such as getting rid of duplicated steps or tasks. It can also highlight pain points, which can result in action items. Awareness of sticking points in a process may be all that it takes to get resources allocated to make incremental improvements.
Best practices for effective process documentation
Before diving in to creation, let’s cover some best practices for process documentation. Below are a few things to keep in mind as you plan, create, and maintain process documentation.
Make it visual
Research shows that 67% of people understand information better when it’s communicated visually.
Including screenshots in your documentation is one of the fastest, most effective ways to show how to do something. We may be biased, but our favorite tool to use for process documentation is Snagit.
It allows you to easily capture screenshots, and also add text callouts, numbered steps, and other customizable annotations to draw attention to a particular area to convey information.
Keep it simple
Be mindful of your audience’s cognitive load–eliminate unnecessary distractions from your content so that your audience can focus on what is important. There are several ways to do this, but in general your guiding principle should be to boil down the communication to what is essential.
With screenshots that you capture for use in your documentation, one way to highlight a particular action is to use the Simply tool in Snagit to create simplified user interface (SUI) graphics. This allows you to cover up unnecessary sections to eliminate distraction.
Aim for evergreen
As you plan and work through documenting a process, try to avoid examples and text which will quickly become outdated. For example, try not to use version numbers in software, dates, or references that could quickly become irrelevant. Being mindful with your approach can help you keep your content up-to-date longer.
Simplified User Interface graphics are great for this application as well. They allow you to avoid frequent updates to your content, such as cases when buttons move around in software applications, as one example.
While you can aim for evergreen, there are going to be changes to processes over time which will require attention to your documentation to ensure it remains accurate.
When this happens, try to edit your existing screenshots in lieu of a total re-do. Snagit has some great options for editing screenshots–options like Smart Move and Replace Text will save valuable time.
Schedule regular check-ins, even if that’s only once a year. This will help make sure your content stays up to date and has all the necessary steps, even as systems and other variables change.
How to document a process easily with screenshots
Step 1: Consider your process
Think through the process you will document. Write down each step of the workflow that you will include in your documentation. This will ensure you don’t skip over anything, and can act as an outline for you as you document the task.
Step 2: Prepare your desktop
Using your plan as a guide, pull up all of the applications that you will need to provide instructions for and capture screenshots from. To eliminate distractions on your screen, you may wish to tidy up your desktop as well, and close any applications that aren’t necessary to your process.
Step 3: Capture your screenshots
Now it’s time to capture screenshots of each step in your process. You can use a variety of tools to achieve this, though again, for all things screen capture…we opt for Snagit.
Note it is better to capture a larger section of your screen vs. a too-small section if you haven’t yet drafted accompanying text, because you can always resize or trim your screenshot later. All of your screen captures will automatically show up in the Snagit editor.
Step 4: Customize your screenshots
Now that you’ve captured all of the screenshots you need, you can customize them. Try out the Simplify option, add shapes, numbered steps using the step tool, text annotations–whatever makes sense to highlight important aspects of your process.
You can even create a custom theme in Snagit with colors and other styles so that your screenshots have a consistent look throughout your documentation.
Step 5: Package and Deliver
Now, the only thing left to do is to package up your screenshots so they’re ready to deliver in whatever format you choose.
One handy option in Snagit is to combine your screenshots into a single image. This allows you to connect a series of related steps, and it automatically numbers them for you to clearly indicate the order of operations, allowing space for captions for each individual screenshot.
From there, many people will copy and paste their screenshots (combined or not) to Microsoft Word, and add instructional text in-between them. Once everything is just right, you can deliver to your audience, or upload somewhere such as a company SharePoint or intranet so that your process documentation is available on demand.
Supplement your process documentation with a screencast video
Alongside your process documentation, it can be helpful to include a supplemental screencast video.
This is especially true if you are new to process documentation, and not an expert yet (which will come with practice!). If anything is unclear to your recipients who are likely unfamiliar with the subject, seeing the process in action should help to clarify.
You can actually use Snagit to record your screen, in addition to capturing your screenshots and marking them up. Snagit allows you to trim out any parts of the video you wish to remove.
Your screencast doesn’t need to be formal, though. Remember that perfect is the enemy of good. Simply walk through the process on your computer as you record your screen. You can talk through what is happening as well.
The video can supplement your process documentation, and provide just a bit more assistance to anyone who wants it.
That’s all, folks!
That’s all there is to it. Hopefully this information helped to explain how we can all feel empowered to share what we know.
There’s no time like the present. You can get started today! Download a fully-functioning, free trial of Snagit, and try your hand at documenting processes at your workplace.