by Luke Fitzpatrick
Many startups begin by diving headfirst into creating a product and then throwing spaghetti at the wall in order to find traction. Many things can be learned during this process and it may work well in the beginning.
As the startup grows, more people are added to the team, and essential procedural knowledge isn’t shared properly. The end result is that members of the same organization are forced to rediscover knowledge that has already been learned.
Documenting techniques, procedures, and concepts from the beginning can curtail this and help your startup grow faster. This guide will help you document the right processes and accelerate growth.
What should you document?
Not every piece of knowledge at an organization, big or small, is useful. Many processes toe the line between being truly useful and a minor convenience.
For example, if you have a manufacturing process that you want to document, there may be one or two things you can do that aren’t necessary but shave off thirty seconds per unit. When documenting the process, should you add those extra steps or leave them out?
To decide, there are a few questions that you can ask yourself when preparing documentation.
1. Who will use this documentation?
This question will inform the way you write your documentation. For example, if you’re a software engineer and you’re writing documentation for another engineer, you may be able to get away with using insider language that others wouldn’t understand. If you’re writing that document for the marketing team or a customer then you may cause more confusion by using insider terms.
2. If they don’t have it will it negatively impact their ability to perform the process?
This question gets you to think critically about whether the document you want to create is important enough to spend your time making it. Some processes are intuitive and don’t need dedicated documentation. For example, how to send an email shouldn’t be documented. How to set up a company mail server should be documented.
3. Will it make things easier/faster/more effective/etc. in the future for the end-user of the documentation?
This question seeks to understand how much extra value the documentation is providing to the users. For example, if you have a relatively intuitive process that takes thirty minutes to complete, it may not need documentation. If you’ve come up with a new process that’s not as intuitive but cuts down the time it takes to just minutes then it’s worthy of being documented because it provides clear value.
4. How often will the process change?
If a process changes too often then any documentation you create will become obsolete and you’ll have to make new ones. Daniel Ndukwu, the founder of UsefulPDF shed some light on this via an email exchange and said that “The timeframe you choose as a cutoff mark will be unique to your organization but when we started documenting everything at UsefulPDF, we chose six months as a cutoff mark. This was due in part to our limited resources at the time.”
Tips to prepare useful documentation.
At its core, documentation is designed to help the viewer be more effective at something or get a clear understanding of a concept. If the documentation doesn’t meet those requirements then it’s useless.
Before you start writing your documentation, get feedback from the people who’ll use it. What are their expectations, what do they need, etc? Once you have that information, you can take advantage of the tips below.
- It’s as short as possible.
- It gets straight to the point. We don’t need the story here. We just need information on how to get something done.
- It focuses on clarity above all else. Someone should be able to follow the instructions without getting confused or needing you to walk them through it.
- Avoids jargon at all costs.
- Use headings to break up text and make things easier to scan/read.
- Use bullets and supporting imagery to aid comprehension.
Over to you.
Documentation is something that’s not optional but can take considerable time to create. Because of that, many organizations under document important processes and end up wasting more time and resources rediscovering knowledge they already have. This guide has shared a few insights about what to document and how to create the best documentation possible. Go forth and make an amazing company wiki.
Luke Fitzpatrick has been published in Forbes, Tech In Asia, and The Next Web. He is also a guest lecturer at the University of Sydney, lecturing in Cross-Cultural Management and the Pre-MBA Program. Connect with him on LinkedIn.