You probably don’t consider yourself a trainer, but nearly all of us at some point have to explain a process or train someone to do something new. If it’s something many people might need to know, you’ll likely want to create some kind of documentation you can share. That way you don’t have to explain it over and over.
When it comes to explaining a process or the steps necessary to do something, nothing beats visuals. Images and video allow you to actually show the steps necessary to complete a task rather than just explaining with words.
That’s where visual process documentation comes in handy.
Visual process documentation is just a fancy way of saying how-to, tutorial, or training content that includes images or videos.
We’ve all heard the old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Turns out it’s true!
In fact, TechSmith research found that not only do people prefer when instructions are presented visually, they actually learn faster, perform better, and retain the information longer.
That means there’s way less change someone will need to come and ask you for the same instructions again and again!
But how do you create visual process documentation — especially if you aren’t a graphic designer?
Luckily, creating professional-looking visual and video content is incredibly easy with the right tools and a little know-how.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
- What is process documentation and why is it important?
- Common types of process documentation.
- Tools for creating visual process documentation.
- How to easily create visual content — including video — to create highly effective visual documentation.
- Best practices for ensuring your documentation is highly effective.
- How to ensure your documentation has a longer shelf life.
What is Process Documentation?
Process documentation is any document that shows the steps necessary to complete a task or project. They can be formal or informal, depending on your audience and the purpose.
What is process documentation used for?
As you can tell from the definition above, process documentation is a pretty broad term. It can be something as simple as a quick screenshot showing the steps to login to an email client or as complex as a multi-page document.
If you think about it, a recipe is a process document. So it can be helpful to think of a process document as the recipe for completing a task. Some recipes are complex and require tons of steps and materials, while others are simple and may only have a few ingredients.
Here are just a few ways process documentation can be helpful:
Train new employees
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!
Process documentation empowers people to access information on their own, when they need it, facilitating the ability to self-help.
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.
Some common types of process documents include:
- Onboarding materials such as instructions for logging into HR software.
- Software how-tos.
- Product instruction manuals.
- Food recipes.
- How-to videos.
What are some of the advantages of Visual Process Documentation?
Visual Process Documentation helps make it easier to understand the process. When people can see what they’re supposed to do, they’re more likely to understand and succeed.
The image above shows the process for importing a YouTube link in TechSmith Knowmia. In just a glance, a user knows exactly where to click and where to enter their link to add their YouTube video.
The written instructions for this would take more time to understand and would force the users to search visually for where to click for each step. This way, it’s all right there fort hem to see.
Provides a reference guide for what expectations are for process results
Visual Process documentation helps to show expected results. The documentation shows one possible path geared towards to these goals. Still, this does not mean that the documented process is the only way to our desired result.
Visual Process Documentation that lays out the procedures for a process makes it easier to see areas where our time or tools could be used more efficiently in the future.
Offers context for projects and processes
A process may include steps and procedures that apply only to an individual project. While future projects could share many of the same procedures, many things could also apply differently. Some of these differences may even be hard to notice from the outside looking in.
Visual Process Documentation makes it easier to compare the circumstances that went into one process versus another process. Doing this helps to avoid mistakes that may result from applying one procedure to a process that it does not fit with.
Facilitates easier training for new participants in a process
Visual Process Documentation helps eliminate many of the questions that a new participant in a process may have because most of those procedures will be directly addressed in the documentation. This allows extra time that would be spent training other people to be focused in other areas where attention may be needed. It’s all about smarter work, not harder work.
Also, what happens if the original participants of a project take on another role? Visual Process Documentation ensures that the project can still be completed even without presence of the person who documented the original process.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? These and many other advantages of Visual Process Documentation show how it can be a powerful tool to use in many dynamic ways. With these advantages in mind, now is a good time to introduce a few best practices that will help you get the most out of your documentation.
Tools for creating visual process documentation
One of the main barriers to creating visual documentation is the belief that you don’t have the skills, time, or knowledge to get it done right.
I’m here to tell you that you don’t need pro skills to get professional quality results. In fact, in many cases, you can get what you need with just a few clicks!
Snagit is your best choice for creating rich, professional-looking process documents, how-tos, tutorials, and more.
Far beyond a simple screenshot and markup tool, Snagit includes a number of features that make documentation as easy as click and drag.
Whether you need to create one or 1,000 process documents, Snagit Templates just became your new best friend. Snagit comes with a number of free professionally-designed templates, or you can subscribe to TechSmith Assets for Snagit to get access to tons more.
With Templates, you can take your screenshots, place them in the template, add any necessary text descriptions, and you’re done. It really is that simple.
And you can go beyond screenshots, too. Have product photos or illustrations you need to share? Snagit can handle them, as well. Just add them where appropriate and let Snagit do the rest.
Snagit actually has a tool that helps you show the steps necessary to complete a task. That’s process documentation in a nutshell!
The Simplify Tool allows you to remove superfluous or irrelevant information to highlight what’s most important. And, of course, with Snagit you can do it in just a few clicks!
Plus, by removing unnecessary text and other elements, your content is less susceptible to minor changes in user interface, wording, etc. That means your content could have a much longer valuable shelf life — and that means fewer updates and more time for you to focus on other things!
Video from Images
Sometimes the best process documentation isn’t really a document at all, but a video! Easily grab your screenshots or other images and turn them into a video showing the exact process. You can add annotations and narration as needed.
Canva is one of the easiest ways to create custom graphics. In fact, many of the graphics you see right here in this blog were created in Canva.
TechSmith Assets for Snagit
I noted above all of the Templates available in TechSmith Assets for Snagit, but it doesn’t end there. There are literally thousands of images, illustrations, icons, stamps, and more that are free for you to use in your project. Snagit comes free with many assets, but you can subscribe for access to more.
- Be specific in how you phrase the procedures in your documentation so that you communicate your message accurately.
- Document single every step needed to complete a process.Include nothing more and nothing less.
- Be sure to include any policies or rules that one must follow during the process.
- Make sure to arrange both the text and visual parts of your documentation in a consistent manner, so that the order of your process is easy to follow..
- Be sure to record the date of the creation of the original documentation, as well as any updates.
- Use screen capture tools such as Snagit or others to create powerful visuals (screenshots, videos, flowcharts, etc.).This will allow the text of your procedures to be clearly organized.
- For security purposes, store the documentation in a location where it is possible to control who has access to it.
- Backup all files that go along with your Visual Process Documentation.
- How to Create a Training Manual: Steps and Tools that Make it Easy
- How to Create Job Aids that Skyrocket Your Team’s Performance
- How to Create a Great Quick-Reference Guide
- This is the Fastest Way to Create Visual How-to Content
- How to Document a Process in Just a Few Clicks
Process documentation is any document that shows the steps necessary to complete a task or project.
Visual process documentation shows the user the necessary steps vs. just explaining with words. Research shows that people perform tasks better, learn faster, and retain information longer when visual content is included.
Onboarding materials such as instructions for logging into HR software.
Product instruction manuals.
Yes! Process documentation is one of the many ways to train employees, whether they’re new hires or just looking to up their skill set.
Note: This post was originally published in 2017, but was updated in September 2020 with new information.