WTFM – Write the Fantastic Manual

March 26, 2008 by Ben Sayers

Previously I have written about the value of reading the manual early on in your exploration and use of a new application, toy, tool or otherwise. However boring the material is, the advanced reading will almost always save you significant time trying to make things work and will reduce your overall level of frustration.

In any business, someone needs to write the manual before others can read it. If you are fortunate to be in a position of being first, you are also likely to be challenged with this task. This is so often overlooked by small companies, particularly young ones in rapidly changing environments. This step is also frowned upon by those with any ounce of creativity in their job as they often feel that they are artists and their role cannot possibly be documented.

1. Why write the manual, I already know how to do my job?

2. I’m too busy to write the manual, how about I get to it when things slow down?

3. I’m an artist; you don’t expect me to document how I create!

4. Why should I take the time to write the manual when there are so many more important things to do?

The only valid question is the last one, and there are so many great answers to it. The first answers are easy:

1. Do you already know how to do your job? Prove it. Besides, if you want a promotion you need to train and backfill your position, wouldn’t that be easier and faster with process documentation?

2. If you are successful, things should not “slow down.” They should just get more efficient. Document how to become more efficient and thereby, more successful.

3. If you get hit by a bus tomorrow, can I easily find your past creations and pick up on open tasks where you left off?

4. There are dozens of great reasons for documenting what you do throughout the day and how you complete each task. Below are some of the reasons why.

a. Documenting each task helps to plan your day today and tomorrow. Having a plan, even if it is little more than a task list, will help keep you focused and ensure that you are able to complete all of your objectives each day/week/month. Document to plan, plan to succeed.

b. Proper documentation will allow you to take vacation with less stress. Knowing that someone can pick up a book and walk through the steps to complete your job in your absence should be a load off your mind. Document to relax.

c. Every process has room for improvement and areas to focus on becoming more efficient. By documenting each process and the steps to complete it, you have drawn it out and are able to evaluate it from the outside in, something not possible when you are already in the middle of the task. Document to improve.

d. By having a complete listing of your tasks and the individual steps to completion is a huge highlighter on your professionalism. Taking the time to understand what you do, to share that knowledge and maintain it as business changes, makes you an invaluable asset to the company. Not doing so make you a liability. Document to build value and professionalism.

e. Keeping internal job secrets might seem like a good way to protect your job and ensure employment security. The opposite, at least at my company, is the actual truth. By not documenting you become a liability and need to be replaced with someone who is secure through professionalism and results not by keeping secrets. Document to build job security (and keep your job).

f. If you are in management, how do you hold your staff accountable? Did you train each one individually? Do you shadow them daily? By documenting their processes, you can build in measurements and points to ensure proper execution. Your staff’s results fall on your shoulders. Knowing what they do and how they do it allow you to measure and to hold your staff accountable. Document for knowledge and success.

Like many companies, we started small and fast with little documentation and a constant stream of changes. We still move quickly and change a lot, but we also realize the value of stopping to look around, documenting what we do, and evaluating it for purposes of improvement and overall business knowledge. However boring, tedious and unnecessary the documentation process may seem, the value of the output is second to none in relation to effective and efficient business operations.

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