Documentation can be one of the most time-consuming aspects of running an IT department, but it’s also one of the most important. Documentation isn’t sexy, and no one wants to be the person who has to do it, but documentation is an important part of any project or environment. How many times have you started working on something only to realize that you didn’t know where to find all the information you needed? Or had to spend time tracking down someone who might know the answer to your question? We’ve all been there, and it’s not fun. Creating and maintaining documentation will go a long way toward preventing these situations, making life easier for everyone in your organization.
Why is documentation important?
Good documentation is critical to a successful IT department. Even if a company isn’t operating with a formal support structure, employees will still need answers to their questions and instructions on how to operate new systems and applications. However, getting individuals who have limited patience for manual processes (which includes most techies) to embrace documentation can be tricky. Here are some tips on how you can help your team adopt good documentation habits.
The key to getting a good documentation structure up and running is to approach it as a team effort. Getting your employees involved from day one will allow them to feel invested in and accountable for their work. It’s also important that you get buy-in from management and your employees before diving into implementation, otherwise you may find yourself fighting an uphill battle against resistance. Once everyone is on board, you can begin designing a plan to meet your company’s needs while making sure that all of your bases are covered.
The following are some of the benefits of creating a documentation practice:
Reduced training costs
When new employees are able to get up to speed faster and existing employees can handle more challenging tasks, your company will experience a reduction in overall employee-training costs.
Better customer service levels
Clear, up-to-date documentation will allow employees to provide higher levels of customer support with fewer internal resources.
Better operational efficiency
Employees who have easy access to current documentation will be able to handle issues more quickly and with fewer hiccups than those who don’t have solid instructions to reference.
More efficient system maintenance.
Good technical documentation dramatically improves system upgrade and maintenance activities. With a clear understanding of what went into each phase, there should be fewer delays when it comes time to perform testing or other activities on mission-critical applications.
What types of documentation are there?
There are many different approaches one can take when creating a documentation strategy for your company’s IT environment. If your company already has an established policies & procedures taxonomy, you’ll likely be best served by continuing to follow that structure. If you don’t, or you want to create a more technology-centric documentation practice, the following structure will help get you started.
A policy is a high-level document that outlines the company’s position on certain activities and practices. Policies are typically mandatory, and they answer questions such as “what” and “why.” Some common examples of policies are an Acceptable Use Policy, a Disaster Recovery Policy, a Patch Management Policy, and a Remote Access Policy.
Procedures support policies. Whereas policies define the “what” and “why,” procedures define the “how,” “when,” and “who.” For example, a Patch Management Policy may define that all systems shall be patched with updates from vendors within 30 days. The procedure that supports it would define that the updates will be deployed using Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager.
A process is a task that your company follows to accomplish certain tasks. Process documentation provides a step-by-step overview of how each process should be completed and by whom. Processes support procedures. In our example of patch management, the process would include step-by-step instructions on how to deploy patches & updates to systems. Processes are also commonly referred to as “work instructions” or “how-to guides.”
What’s in a documentation strategy?
Although creating and distributing great documentation may seem like a simple process, there are quite a few steps involved. To put together quality content and distribute it across your entire organization, consider the following methodology:
Create a documentation plan
The documentation plan will be your framework for developing your policies, procedures, and processes. Start by creating a list of all the policies you will create. Then begin determining what procedures you will create to support the policies. It is crucial that you involve several members of your IT department in this exercise. Conduct a brainstorming session and make a list of everyone’s input on what documents should be created.
Determine the required elements for each document
Make sure all guidelines are clearly written and simple to follow. What elements should a policy contain? What sections must be present in every procedure? These are just a few questions you should answer during this step. It may also be helpful to create checklists of things to keep in mind while creating your documentation.
Determine a review schedule
Once you have your plan, you need to determine who will be responsible for reviewing and approving all documentation prior to being released. This should be established at the beginning of any documentation project so that everyone is clear on who is involved in approval or rejection for each document submitted. Document reviews are essential as it not only allows others to provide feedback but also helps prevent mistakes from getting published and provides an opportunity for improvements before they happen. It is important to remember that documentation is fluid, not static. At a minimum, every piece of documentation should be reviewed annually.
Create a document release protocol
You need to provide step-by-step directions for publishing your documents. This will include guidance on who is responsible for each step, what needs to be submitted, where they are submitted and when they are due. Remember, you don’t have to create separate guidelines for each type of document, but rather set one standard that applies across your organization so that everyone knows how and when information should be published or distributed.
What are ways to get people on board?
Getting people on board to adopt new practices is never easy. The first thing to remember is that everyone—yes, everyone—is busy and has plenty on their plate already. A good way to approach change is simply by being transparent about what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s important not only to share your vision for where you want to take things but also why you want it done that way. This helps build trust within your team as well as understanding so there’s no confusion around why we’re doing things a certain way.
Another helpful way to motivate your team is by showing them how their efforts will contribute to a larger goal. It’s not only about what they need to accomplish but why it matters for everyone. If you can get buy-in from leadership, then it’s much easier to get acceptance at all levels and start building momentum around your goals.
The last thing you want to do is force change on people. Your company might have certain policies and procedures for a reason, and these reasons are often shared with your team when things are first getting started. Don’t make people feel like they’re being forced into doing something they don’t want to do. Rather, let them know why you’re implementing new processes, products, or policies so that they can feel confident about their value.
Keeping Your Documentation Current
Like any practice, maintaining documentation is something you need to bake into your workflow. It may sound daunting at first, but if you make it a habit—and take advantage of solutions like automated documentation solutions that can ease much of the burden for you—you’ll be on your way to better documenting your environment and making support easier and more efficient for both yourself and others.
Sound overwhelming? Not sure where to start? Axeleos can help! Our experts have extensive experience in creating good documentation practices. Contact us today and let us help you adopt a good documentation posture.