Enterprise Software

How to get started on your company's internal documentation

If a valuable employee suddenly left your company, would you be in the dark about their job assignments? What is the best way to help new employees hit the ground running? Read why Meredith Little believes internal documentation can provide the answers.


As odd as it sounds, information technology companies are often lacking in information about themselves: their processes, their routines, and of course, their infrastructure and networks.

However, documenting your company’s information is one of the most important internal tasks a company can undertake.

Unfortunately, most companies still regard any user documentation they have to produce as a necessary evil at best—they aren’t even thinking about internal documentation. But the knowledge inside your company is just as important, or maybe even more important, than the knowledge you send out the door.

In this article, we’ll explain how documentation can help you when employees leave and when new workers arrive. We’ll also suggest questions you should ask when starting your own documentation process.
In this series, we’ll discuss why internal documentation is so crucial to your company and how to take it from a concept to development and implementation of an internal print or online library.
What if key people left your company?
If an information technology company doesn’t keep track of its own information, what will remain if even a few of its key people leave? How much of the know-how essential to your company’s success exists only in the heads of a small number of people?

With the job opportunities bombarding many IT professionals, companies need to make sure that losing someone won’t cripple the company or place a huge burden on the rest of the staff and contribute to further losses.

Besides smoothing the transition when people leave, internal documentation also makes it easier for people to delegate tasks. How many times would you have liked to have help on a project, but didn’t ask for it because you knew it would take longer to teach someone rather than do it yourself?

Good documentation makes it easier for people to take time off without causing a crisis for the rest of the team and lessens the chance of employee burnout.

What first impression does your company give new hires?
You may not know it, but many of your new hires might sit at their desks doing nothing for days because everyone else is too busy to tell them what to do or give them orientation. They’re twiddling their thumbs and watching their new coworkers, possibly wondering what they’ve gotten themselves into.

One important function of internal documentation is to create introductory material that not only keeps new hires occupied but also tells them more about how the company works. Such information can cover both their team and other groups, giving them a head start on their new responsibilities.

Creating specific documentation, oriented directly towards the new person’s job, is an excellent way to reduce downtime for new hires and decrease the amount of time your existing staff must spend to bring the new person up to speed.

Where do you start?
If you begin an internal documentation project, don’t think of it as documenting only information—it’s important to capture and convey how people use that information. A project like this should be regarded as management of your company’s intellectual property.

And don’t think of documentation in the usual sense of user manuals and other “how to use this piece of software” information. Instead, you want to document how things happen at your company—who does what and what tools do they use? Start by thinking about the following questions:
  • What are the key processes? You may want to start by breaking it down by department.
  • How is this process completed? Why and when is it done?
  • Who has key responsibility for internal business issues?
  • Who are your key partners and contacts at other companies?
  • Where are crucial files stored?
  • What are your standard business processes? Your organizational structure?

Good documentation should also address why people do what they do, as well as how. It’s the sharing of the best practices in your company.

Documenting internal processes helps prevent people from having to reinvent the wheel. If you have a successful process for doing something, make sure that everyone knows it so they don’t have to spend time duplicating processes that already exist.

In this case, documentation helps to reinforce standardization and enables people to repeat successes. The flip side is that it also helps them avoid mistakes others have made.

Meredith Little is a self-employed writer, documentation consultant, trainer, business analyst, photographer, and travel writer.

When new employees come to your business, do you have documentation that helps them start their job? When you started your current job, would documentation have helped make your first few weeks easier? Share your experiences with us. Post your comments below or send us an e-mail.

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