Implementing a new system in the organization? Striving to improve efficiencies across work streams? Process Documentation must play a central role. It is one of the priorities in conducting a Needs Assessment.
Preparation is essential for a successful technology or system implementation. Skipping the prep leads to headaches and frustration. Applying snazzy new technology onto poor processes, can make an expensive, timely mess. It may be exciting to think that by just implementing new technology, efficiency will improve. That’s not the case. Processes must be documented prior to system integration to provide effective change.
For clarity, let’s define process documentation.
What is Process Documentation?
Process documentation is the act of clearly delineating each task, step, and process within a department or workstream from start to finish. Every business consists of an internal super-highway of interrelated processes that churns in every corner of the business. If processes aren’t mapped, and procedures documented, there is no way to capture inefficiencies or understand the operational foundation of the business unit when implementing new technology.
The documents created as part of the documentation effort includes process maps like Swimlane Diagrams and Value Stream Map. These maps are developed in current state and future state. Documents also include Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and training guides.
Often, businesses mistakenly reference process documentation as solely the initial step of process mapping. Rather, process documentation references all documents that support a specific process, including the process maps, procedures, policies, forms, and tutorials.
So, what are some examples of processes? Any task that includes a beginning and an end is a process.
- Accounting department: how billing and receipts are managed and processed
- Stock room: how inventory is managed for efficiency and in-stock accuracy
- Customer service center: Management of calls, inquiries, and complaints from first call to resolution
- Product production: Lifecyle of products from design, cost modeling, production, sales, and distribution
- New employee onboarding: recruiting, interviewing, orientation, assimilation
Benefits of Process Documentation
Process documentation creates a roadmap through every juncture of the organization. Repeatable tasks should be documented to ensure standardization and efficiency. Process documentation provides leaders and teams insight into the work being done to maintain consistency and accuracy. Employees who complete tasks based on undocumented processes can essentially re-design the process at any point. And when employees leave an organization, they take their knowledge with them. Process documentation maintains consistency and secures that the organization retains the process knowledge.
Additional benefits of process documentation:
- Maintains standards, consistency, and compliance
- Enhances process efficiency and productivity
- Creates means to analyze processes and continuously improve
- Facilitates employee training and knowledge transfer
- Provides smooth onboarding
- Improves security and mitigates risks
Develop Current State of Processes with Process Mapping
The first step in process documentation is to capture the current state of how things are done. Also referred to as swim lane diagrams, process maps create operational transparency of a work stream. It’s an essential tool to capture and clarify each step within complex processes.
Swim lane diagrams cross work streams and provides a visual representation of each step in the process. They help to identify roles, capabilities, responsibilities, time, resources, and decision points within the process. The current state of a process map outlines responsibilities among individuals and teams, decision points, and the connectivity among each task and team member.
The process maps also highlight bottlenecks, redundancies, and excessive time to complete tasks within the process. This information creates opportunities for improvement.
Develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
As part of process documentation, SOPs are created to reflect the current state process captured in each step outlined in the swim lane diagrams. SOPs provide step-by-step instructions to complete each task within the process.
SOPs are essential to any organization that strives to provide consistent, reliable, and timely products and services. SOPs are often required for compliance regulations to confirm that all operational practices are documented and followed per government or industry requirements.
Each SOP document should include the scope, requirements, roles, and responsibilities of everyone connected to the process, and sequential itemized steps.
A key component of SOPs that is often overlooked or not maintained in many organizations is revision control. There should be a single SOP for each process. The SOP should be updated to the next revision as leaders and those who play a role in the process identify a necessary update. Each revision should be updated accordingly in the Document Management System and communicated to the team.
There are many benefits to developing SOPs as part of process documentation. Development and use of SOPs provide consistency in how tasks are performed from each individual. SOPs help maintain quality of service or products and reduces errors. SOPs make sure that whoever is completing a specific task, it’s completed the same way each time, no matter who is doing it.
Develop Future State Swim Lane Diagrams
After creating SOPs, the next step in process documentation is review of the current state diagrams and identifying opportunities for improvement. The current state documentation provides a baseline for how things are done. The future state documentation never stops evolving. It is the basis for the methodology of continuous improvement.
There is synergy between the future state swim lane diagrams and each revision of the SOPs. With each improvement to the process, the next revision of the SOP should reflect the update.
Develop Training Guides
Employee training and development should always have a role in an organization committed to continuous improvement. It’s also beneficial to have a representative from the Learning and Development (L&D) team as part of the continuous improvement efforts.
It’s optimal to have L&D create and incorporate training reflective of each SOPs and part of the organization’s Learning Management System (LMS). However, for time efficiency and to quickly get process steps in the hands of those doing the work, the process documentation team should create training guides. The training guides can be as simple as a 1-2-page document, depending on the complexity of the process.
Here’s an example.
An RTG Solutions Group project team helped a defense contractor to improve efficiency. Part of the project included determining why there was so much inventory waste of wire in the stock room, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. We determined that the wire cutting machine was not being effectively used resulting in individuals over-cutting wire from spools. This resulted in a significant volume of expensive wire being thrown away.
The problem: There was no SOP, or training guide, for employees to use with the wire cutting machine.
The solution: In a matter of hours, an SOP was developed, along with a training guide, that included images of each step in the wire-cutting process.
The result: Improved efficiency and significant reduction of waste and cost.
Teach out Problem-Solving Tools
The practice of continuous improvement does not happen in a vacuum. Teams who do the work each and every day should have a voice and play an integral role to identify opportunities to improve the process. That’s why it’s important for consultants and leaders in the organizations to teach how to use problem-solving tools and methods to improve efficiency.
Process documentation is the foundation to improve process efficiency and critical when implementing a new system or technology. At RTG Solutions Group, we believe that a commitment to people, process, and communication will lead to efficiency and organizational growth. All three – people, process, and communication – are woven throughout the process documentation steps. If your organization is implementing a new system or striving to improve efficiency, contact us.