Process Documentation for Startups: How To Get Started + Best Tools

Documenting processes can help you optimize your workflow and reduce the growing pains of scaling your startup. Here's how to get started.
Process Documentation for Startups: How To Get Started + Best Tools

As your startup grows, your internal processes become more complex. A heavier workload, more clients, and a larger team can make processes trickier to manage. Here is where process documentation can be a life savior.

And the reason is quite simple, the more resources you have to guide your team, the better informed and more proficient they'll be. As a result, your company will expand efficiently.

But, even if you’re not there yet, documenting processes will streamline your workflow and set the groundwork for a smooth expansion.

In today’s post, we’ll share everything you need to know on how to document processes, including:

  • What is process documentation
  • Why process documentation matters
  • The best ways to document processes
  • Our top process documentation tools

Ready? Let’s get started.

What Is Process Documentation?

First things first, what is process documentation? Process documentation describes how to execute a workflow in detail. 

Plus, the best process documentation includes supporting resources such as:

  • Tutorials
  • Checklists
  • Screenshots
  • Flowcharts
  • Forms
  • Process maps
  • Policies
  • Frequently asked questions

All in all, process documentation is a guide that helps team members at all levels to quickly understand company processes. 

You may assume that process documentation is particularly useful for training junior team members. But it’s equally (or even more important) for onboarding and training leadership. 

Why Process Documentation Matters

But, why is documentation important?  By documenting your processes, you will:

  • Reduce fallibility among teams and team members
  • Ensure a consistent quality baseline
  • Simplify staff onboarding processes
  • Get the visibility you need to keep optimizing your processes in the long run
  • Save time
  • To comply with industry requirements
  • Set the groundwork for future expansion

Let’s see what these benefits are all about. Shall we?

Reduce Fallibility Among Teams and Team Members 

With the right process documentation, your team will be empowered to fulfill their day-to-day tasks and achieve their goals.

With the right process documentation, everyone gets a clear view of what needs to be done and how. And one thing is sure, everyone performs better when there is clarity and minimal hesitation. No one will have to guess or improvise as they go. This will result in a much more efficient and faster workflow. Plus, it will boost your team's confidence. 

As a result, not only will everything get done faster, but team leaders will have the confidence to delegate.

Ensure a Consistent Quality Baseline 

With properly documented processes, team members won't rely on their intuition to get the job done. Instead, they’ll implement trackable methods with clear expectations.

Everyone will be on the same page, leading to consistency.

This will also make it easier to assess performance and troubleshoot processes. As your startup develops its internal processes, it’ll become easier to diagnose problems and create scalable solutions.

Simplify Staff Onboarding Processes 

By documenting your processes, you’ll be able to design a solid training plan for your new employees. As a result, newcomers will be well aware of their role’s scope and responsibilities. And, since they'll have these documents to refer to, they'll be able to become autonomous fast.

Improve Processes 

As you review your company's processes, you’ll start to identify areas for improvement and streamlining.

For instance:

  • Processes that include too many steps
  • Processes your team members often struggle with
  • Workflows that jeopardize your team’s ability to meet deadlines
  • Low-priority processes that take too much time and resources

Tools, best practices, and goals aren’t set in stone. It’s key to continue optimizing your internal processes as you grow. 

Proper process documentation makes constant optimization manageable. Internal process documentation gives you a clear picture of how things are actually working. So, it becomes easy to detect bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

Save Time

Documenting your processes will save you time in two different ways.

Namely, it will:

  • Minimize time-consuming back-and-forth
  • Make it easy to detect processes that could be omitted or automated

Compliance 

Documenting processes can mitigate risks by guaranteeing compliance with the requirements of your industry. For example, you might have internal processes to ensure customers' data is kept private and secure which may also be a regulatory requirement in your industry.

Preserve Company Knowledge as You Scale

Documenting processes is great for:

  • Preventing knowledge silos 
  • Preparing for expansion

Regardless of the tool you choose to document your internal processes, one thing’s for sure: Your processes shouldn’t only exist in your team members’ memories. Memory is fallible, and different people remember things in different ways. 

But your documentation can work as a source of truth. Especially as team members leave the company or processes change. 

Still Unsure? Check Out These 5 Business Process Management Stats

All in all, by documenting processes you’ll become more aware of your company’s workflows and needs. Plus, you’ll save lots of time and money. 

Still hesitant? These stats may help you decide:

  • 62% of small business owners have reported working over 50h/per week (Gallup)
  • 72% of business owners report feeling overwhelmed by their responsibilities (The Alternative Board)
  • It’s estimated that a new employee needs about 8 months to reach maximum productivity (HBR)
  • 46% of companies consider effective business processes as a way to reduce costs (ZipReporting)
  • A structured onboarding program leads to 58% more new employees staying with a company for more than three years (ZipReporting)

How to Document Processes In 11 Steps

In this section, we’ll share a basic process documentation workflow you can use to get up and running.

While every startup is different, there are some general guidelines that can be helpful in all industries and cultures.

If you want to start documenting your processes, we advise you to begin with one workflow in particular. Choose one your team has been struggling with, or simply the one you’re most involved in.

Next, we recommend you:

  1. Identify the process and describe it briefly
  2. Brainstorm the process steps
  3. Sequence those steps and define the duration of the process
  4. Describe the tools you need
  5. Describe who’s involved and what their role entails
  6. Define the process inputs
  7. Describe the methods you implement
  8. Create a visual representation of the process
  9. Specify exceptions and special cases
  10. Identify risks and set control points
  11. Review and test

Let’s take a closer look at each step.

Identify the Process and Describe It Briefly

Define what process you want to document and write a brief description. Make sure to briefly define:

  • Who is involved
  • Its expected output
  • How it benefits your company 

Brainstorm the Process Steps

Gather up with your team and outline all the steps of the process, from start to finish. You can start by focusing on the result and tracing the steps taken to get there. Or, you can start by finding out what triggers the process in the first place and move from there. 

Sequence Your Steps and Define the Duration of the Process

Now that you have a list of all the steps, order them in a sequence and create a process flow.

Review those steps and try to spot which ones you could do without. Additionally, if a step implies various tasks, don’t forget to list them as well.

Describe What Tools You Need

Now, take a moment to think about what software is needed for each of the steps. Consider not only the tools directly related to the process but also those that are “peripheral”. For instance, internal communication tools.

Describe Team Members’ Roles & Responsibilities

Determine who will be responsible for each step and task, and what scope they’ll be covering. Bear in mind to mention the role rather than the name of the person currently occupying it.

Plus, it will also be greatly beneficial to list the skills needed for each task. For example, proficiency with a specific tool.

This will later make it easier for you to define what you need for each role, and streamline future recruitment processes.

Define the Process’ Inputs

List all that you need to get this process done, such as: 

  • Documents
  • Resources
  • Team members’ time commitment

For example, in a staff onboarding process, you’ll likely need certain forms, training time, and software subscriptions.

Describe the Methods You Use

When it comes to methods, we advise you to get specific. Write a detailed explanation of how everything gets done. Are there any external references your colleagues can use to figure out what’s expected of them? Link them! 

For example, let’s say you’re writing documentation for your development team, and you’re describing a step that involves writing CSS. If your team uses atomic classes (a naming convention), specify it and share some resources about it. 

Create a Visual Outline

Adding a flow chart to your documentation will bring extra clarity. It’ll help you see if you've covered everything and if the steps are logically arranged. A visual outline will also help you to train new team members in a way that feels intuitive.

There are plenty of process documentation templates online that you can use as inspiration.

Write Down Exceptions and Special Cases

There are many reasons why processes may differ from time to time. Someone might get sick, there may be a long holiday, or the project at hand may require special attention. Hence, it’s always good to write down what to do if something atypical occurs. 

Identify Where Risks Can Occur and Add Control Points

Now that you’ve mapped out your process, it’s time to go over each step and analyze where things can (or tend to) go wrong. 

Adding some control points for those problematic steps will make it easier for the process owner to minimize errors. Additionally, you can set metrics to determine the process' effectiveness.

Review and Test

Involve your team at every step of the way. And, once you’re done mapping the process, get them together to review the new documentation. 

 Is it clear and helpful? Is any step or key information missing?

8 Key Process Documentation Best Practices for Startups

Now that you know how to document your processes, it’s time for some best practices. We recommend you:

  1. Make relevant team members a part of the documentation process
  2. Use collaborative tools
  3. Keep your documentation updated
  4. Choose a process documentation tool that’s easy to use
  5. Make sure your process documentation tool is scalable
  6. Create documentation that’s concise and easy to read
  7. Define technical terms
  8. Leverage your existing material

Make Process Documentation a Collaborative Effort

Make your team members a part of your process documentation efforts. Your team members know your processes first-hand. So, they may be able to pinpoint bottlenecks that you haven’t detected yet.

Additionally, you should choose a team member (ideally, a manager) as the documentation owner. The documentation owner will be in charge of managing and updating their team’s relevant process docs. So, it’s key to involve them early on.

Use Collaborative Process Documentation Tools 

It will be difficult to help your team take charge of your process documentation if it exists on a .doc file on your computer. 

Choose collaborative, cloud-based process documentation tools. 

Keep Your Documentation Updated

As new technologies develop and your company expands, processes are likely to change over time. That’s why you should have a plan to update your docs if anything changes. 

Additionally, we recommend you review your documents at least once per quarter.

Assigning documentation owners is the most scalable way to get it done.

Choose a Tool That Is Easy to Use

Make process documentation management as frictionless as possible.

Choosing a user-friendly tool increases the chances of team members updating your documentation regularly. 

If possible, document your processes on a tool your team’s already using.

Make Sure the Tool You Choose Is Scalable

As your business grows so will its software demands. It’s of key importance that your business documentation tool can adapt to that scalability. Otherwise, adjusting to a new tool will be time-consuming for you and your team. Especially, in terms of research, testing, and training. 

Ensure That Your Documentation Is Concise and Easy to Read

Keep your language simple, and only use technical terminology when necessary. This will make your documentation easy to follow and understand.

Additionally, make sure your documentation’s general structure is easy to navigate.

We recommend you organize documentation by:

  • Team
  • Goal
  • User lifecycle stage

Always Define Technical Terms

Are there any terms that not all team members are familiar with, or that newcomers may not know? Define them in your documentation.

Pro tip: Create an internal glossary. That way, you’ll be able to centralize your definitions.

Leverage Existing Material

You probably won’t need to start documenting from scratch.

There may be a wealth of information on:

  • Your case studies
  • Team members’ project notes
  • Your internal communication platform
  • User feedback

Our Top 4 Tools for Documenting Processes

There are many process documentation tools that can help you semi-automate the process and minimize manual work. And the best part is that there are options for all company sizes and budgets. 

Here are our top picks:

  • Scribe
  • Confluence
  • Slite 
  • Outline

Let’s take a closer look!

Scribe 

Scribe is a wonderful option for those looking for a functional documentation tool with a clean interface. 

Wondering how to start documenting your processes with Scribe? Simple, you only need to turn on the recorder and explain your process. Scribe will automatically generate a step-by-step guide within seconds, including screenshots, videos, and clicks. Plus, the recorder also works with Chrome Chrome and Microsoft Edge. A desktop app is available as well.

Some of Scribe’s key features are:

  • The ability to create how-to visual guides within seconds, with just one click
  • Its very user-friendly interface
  • Extremely intuitive guide customization
  • Multiple sharing options, including PDF exports, public URLs, and embeds
  • Page templates
  • The ability to combine different guides
  • Multiple integrations, including tools like ClickUp, Notion, HubSpot, and many more
  • Compatibility with Windows, Mac, and all browsers

When it comes to pricing, we’ve got good news! Scribe offers a free version for individuals. But if you want some extra features and the ability to share content with your team, you’ll have to choose a paid plan. 

Scribe’s Pro plan starts at $23/month per user. Growing enterprises with specific needs can get in touch with sales for a custom solution

Confluence

Confluence is a great process documentation & collaboration tool. In just one platform, you can create, edit, collaborate, and store all your data.

Some of Confluence's key features include:

  • The ability to manage your workload and work collaboratively, assigning tasks, tracking projects, and getting real-time reports.
  • Integrations with a variety of apps and platforms, including Trello, Slack, Dropbox, and many more.
  • A versioning system for tracking and viewing the history of changes to a page
  • Analytics on page views, user views, and comments
  • Unlimited spaces and pages, available on all plans
  • Best practice templates for all sorts of tasks, including marketing plans, product requirement forms, and more

Confluence offers a free plan for up to 10 users. This plan includes 2GB of storage. 

However, if you need a bit more, there a three plans that you can choose from:

  • Standard, which starts at $5.75/month per user
  • Premium, starting at $11/month per user
  • An Enterprise solution with custom pricing (available for annual billing only)

Slite

Slite was specially designed for process documentation and thoughtful collaboration.

Some of Slite's key features include:

  • A flexible editor that combines practicality and aesthetics
  • The ability to organize lists and projects into collections
  • The ability to sort, filter, and reference documents throughout your workspace
  • A focus on collaborative features and async communication
  • An efficient search tool to dive into your company’s internal documentation
  • Multiple integrations
  • Compatibility with Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android

When it comes to pricing, Slite offers a free plan that includes 50 docs and discussions, unlimited members and integrations, and all editor blocks. However, if you need more, Slite offers three paid plans: 

  • Standard, starting at $8/month per user
  • Premium, starting at $15/month per user
  • Enterprise, a custom solution for growing companies 

Outline

Outline is a great tool to keep your team’s knowledge organized. Plus it has an elegant minimalist interface.

Outline’s key features include:

  • An intuitive editor with markdown capabilities, slash commands, embedding options, and more
  • A scannable interface that “doesn’t get in the way”
  • 20+ integrations with all kinds of tools, including Slack, Figma, Airtable, Zapier, Spotify, and more
  • Custom domains
  • A self-hosted option

You can host your own Outline installation, or choose a “Cloud” plan. 

The possibility to self-host is quite valuable if you want to keep full control of your data. However, Cloud plans may be best if you don’t have a large IT team.

Cloud plans go as follows:

  • $10 per month for 1-10 team members
  • $79 per month for 11-100 team members
  • $249 per month for 101-200 team members.

Outline offers a 30-day free trial for all paid plans, no credit card needed.

If you’re planning to self-host Outline, you can enjoy it for free, forever. But, if you’re onboarding at least 100 team members, you can request an “Enterprise” plan, which includes ongoing support. Enterprise plans start at $4/user per month.

Key Takeaways

In today’s article, we learned how process documentation can bring clarity and predictability to your operations. 

It may take time and patience. But process documentation is definitely worth the effort.

Reviewing and documenting your processes is also a great opportunity to analyze the tools that power them. Are you keeping track of your software stack? Do you have a system to track software expenses? Do you know which tools are essential to your team? Here is where Cledara can help.

With Cledara you can:

  • Visualize your tech stack
  • Understand your tech spending
  • Find out which apps your employees don't use, or don’t use enough
  • Learn what tools deliver the most value to your team
  • Manage tool access
  • Unsubscribe from unnecessary apps with just one click

Take control of your tech stack. Book a demo today to discover Cledara.

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Jenny Liu
Head of Finance @ Marshmallow