Ways to Wiki: Business Process Documentation

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Ways to Wiki: Business Process DocumentationFirst in a series to cover the many ways wikis can help collect and organize information for your business, team or community group.

Business process (BP), standard operating procedure (SOP), business method... call it what you want. The key to every successful business is identification and communication of the repeatable processes that make the business go. Whether you have 100 employees or none, your ability to scale, improve and react is crucial. Without documenting the procedures needed to execute your business, you and your employees are just stumbling through an ongoing improvisational act.

If you're a micro business, the crucial ability to delegate and outsource depends upon your ability to establish and communicate repeatable tasks. If your business has employees, don't let the ability to do their job walk out the door with them. Capture their processes and tasks so that a substitute can jump in without completely reinventing the wheel.

Whether you're going for ISO certification or just trying to improve efficiency, consistency and quality, documented procedures are a corner-stone for getting it done. If you're starting from scratch, this can seem like an insurmountable task. Using a wiki to document and improve business process can drastically reduce the effort involved and increase the value provided to your business.

A business process is a collection of related, structured activities or tasks that produce a specific service or product (serve a particular goal) for a particular customer or customers. - Wikipedia

Here are some ways a wiki can uniquely help your business process documentation efforts.

Start With Yourself

Start a process wiki by identifying a few repeatable tasks that you find yourself performing. These can be simple 15 minute tasks or complex multi-day projects. Each task should be one page on the wiki. The key is to identify a repeatable process - one that can be codified and communicated. Some tips to doing this effectively:

  • Assume professional knowledge. You're not writing this so that an 11 year old can perform the task. Assume the person following the instructions has the professional education and general experience required to perform the task.
  • Don't assume they know anything about your company. Think of this as a training guide for a new hire.
  • Don't get mired in endless detail. Keep the level of detail to the minimum amount that would allow a new hire to follow the steps successfully. Consider making a separate section for exceptions and special cases, if there are many. 
  • If you find the page getting impossibly long, you're probably at the wrong level of granularity. Consider making the task page an outline linking the steps requiring significant explanation separate pages.

As you do this, start thinking of a standard format you can use for pages on your procedures wiki. Some headings you might find useful could be:

  • Description - Include a brief high-level description. Give sufficient context so that it's clear where this task fits into the overall running of the business.
  • Inputs - What inputs are required to complete the task?
  • Outputs or Work Products - What are the tangible results?
  • Steps - What are the steps required to complete the task?
  • Related Tasks - Are there similar, complimentary, alternative, predecessor or successor tasks to this one?

The goal is to get at least a few tasks documented. They don't have to be perfect or cover everything outside the selected tasks. This is a wiki, so they can (and will) be refined over time.

Identify Some Target Roles

At this early stage, establish a few Roles. Roles are areas of responsibility and required skills that complete a set of tasks. It's likely you have individual employees mapped to Roles (such as Customer Support, Administrative Assistant, etc.). Again, don't belabor this, but set up areas on the wiki so that additional tasks can be created and organized into a few predefined Roles.

Delegate Process Documentation to Subject Matter Experts

For each role, identify some key tasks that role must perform. Find the most qualified employee you have filling that role and ask them to document their process using the wiki. The examples you've documented for yourself will serve as examples to give them an idea what you're expecting. If appropriate, provide some training on the wiki first so that isn't an issue.

Review, Complete, Repeat

By starting small, learning from the process, making improvements and repeating, you'll find yourself with a growing library of business process documentation. Your standard operating procedures (if you prefer to call it that) must be continually reviewed for gaps, inconsistencies and changes to your business. Establish owners for each of the tasks in your process wiki and make reviewing and updating these tasks a regularly scheduled part of the job.

Test & Improve

A fun and valuable exercise is to test tasks by having employees with similar skills attempt to swap tasks. This will identify points needing clarification, errors and omissions. Establish a regular (bi-annual, annual?) process for testing tasks, and document the findings and actions taken to improve on the wiki itself.

Benefit from Your Efforts

If you haven't completed an exercise like this before for your business, doing so can be an eye opening experience. Reviewing your process wiki can identify tasks that can be easily outsourced, allowing your employees to focus more on growing and improving the business. You might find redundancies and areas for efficiency improvement. One thing is sure: the exercise will provide value to your business and your bottom line.

In summary, using a wiki for process documentation:

  • eases delegation of task documentation to subject matter experts,
  • enables employees to peer review each others tasks, capture and act upon feedback,
  • provides version control and change history of documentation - nothing will be lost accidentally,
  • notifies management and/or employees of all changes made,
  • allows easy and secure access to information from anywhere over the Internet.

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