18 Excellent Reasons to Write Down What You Do

Superior Business Analysis is based on a fairly simple premise – that to improve what you do, you need to think about what you do. That is of course what ‘analysis’ is, considered, logical and structured thinking about a subject with the aim of better understanding it. And by ‘what you do’ of course I mean your processes.

I don’t mean you need to spend weeks agonising one particular process ad nauseum – the 80-20 rule seems to apply here as much as anywhere. (For a solid summary of the ’80-20 rule’ a.k.a. ‘Pareto’s Principle’ and its wide application, this article from Alan Chapman / Businessballs seems very comprehensive.) Nor do I mean that you need to get a PhD in statistics or an MBA to do a decent job of thinking through your processes. I just mean that it is worthwhile to spend a bit of time, relative to how important a particular process is, making sure it achieves what is desired. If you don’t spend time thinking about what you do, then what you do may not be very effective, valuable or safe at all.

Now, if your job is based on simple tasks that can be easily completed in three or four common sense steps, then that analysis could be quite straightforward. Conversely, it might be counterproductive to analyse the steps for extremely creative tasks where the artist prefers to be driven by the creative process within constraints.

However, many jobs entail a longer, more consistent and/or far more complex series of steps involving inputs and outputs from other people – and there can be large risks, costs or other implications at stake. In these cases it is not really possible for people (or teams of people) without photographic memories to decently analyse processes in their heads. It is necessary to write the processes down.

© Creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos, CC0 Image: Notebook and Pen on Desk with Computer. ID: 82961354

Because very few people enjoy writing processes down, they often need to be given one or two… or three or four very good reasons for writing down what they do. Ultimately a mature organisation may use tools like role descriptions, expressed principles (see this post for some suggestions about how to help remember key information) or performance development conversations to ensure that staff understand what ‘writing down’ expectations exist. But just telling someone what to do is often not helpful. What makes people listen up and be happy to do things is usually the ‘why’.

So I hereby present you with 18 very good reasons why you (and / or your staff) should write down what they do. It is my genuine hope that these carrots or sticks will provide you and the other people in the organisation with some enthusiasm for it… or at least some fewer excuses to avoid it. You may need to pick and choose which ones are most applicable to your audience based on the role/s, motive/s and worldview/s of your audience members!

Writing down your processes means you can:

  1. Be on the same page as the people you work with so there are less annoyances or nasty surprises
  2. Ensure your manager is aware what is happening and has the opportunity to give you feedback before you carry out tasks
  3. Identify ways to do your work with less time and better quality
  4. Know exactly what you’re doing so that you can do it efficiently and smoothly.
  5. Show you take pride in doing your best and distinguish yourself from someone who might just do the bare minimum without thinking about what they’re doing and how to improve.
  6. Create a smooth and clear process through the routine work so that you are left with more time and brain-power to do identify or participate in exciting new projects (which , depending on your workplace, might raise your profile and increase your value as an employee).
  7. Identify and avoid or mitigate risks, whether physical, political or financial, before they become issues.
  8. Delegate or train up someone else to do your work (if you’re on leave, sick or moving on to another position).
  9. Identify logical places where you could benefit from additional information inputs or advice.
  10. Identify opportunities to work with other business areas or leverage this or other activities to reduce duplication across the agency.
  11. Know what current arrangements need to be considered if you are significantly improving or reforming the process.
  12. Start to make a case for getting additional resources or tools to help improve what you do and your results.
  13. If cost effective, have a starting point for fine tuning your processes further using Six Sigma, Lean, Total Quality Management or another process improvement methodology (by you or a specialist).
  14. Have a starting point for seeking other types of external advice on whether the process is correct (e.g. from a lawyer, accountant or social media consultant).
  15. Have a starting point for identifying the user activities (use cases) that a new or existing computer application should support (as a part of developing system requirements).
  16. Provide proof of quality to clients, customers or funding partners and maybe therefore get more work.
  17. Have a basis for seeking quality assurance accreditation if you think that would be a useful marketing and quality maintenance tool.
  18. Have fun! Well why wouldn’t you? It can be very satisfying writing down what you do and knowing that you are doing the best you can. Seriously!

So what do you reckon? Will these work? And what have I missed?

2 thoughts on “18 Excellent Reasons to Write Down What You Do

  1. Great list! I like the broad coverage of topics! As perhaps an application or extension of #7, where an organisation is responsible for making decisions that affect other people and which may be challenged (e.g. granting funds, giving or denying permission for developments or other activities, even deciding on competition winners), documenting the processes by which the decisions are made can help show in response to a challenge that decisions were made with due diligence, and were made consistently and fairly (as well as ensuring that this is actually the case!).

    Another area where I’ve found it useful to document processes (or wished I had later!) is where a process occurs only infrequently, and often in response to a particular situation (e.g. in the IT field, installing a new version of software, converting files from one type to another). It’s possible to waste lots of time working out how to do it, then not write down the steps because they seem obvious after you’ve found out (which they clearly were not!). If the steps of the process are entirely things done on a computer, it’s often possible to write these instructions as a script so that the process can be fully automated. (Then your process documentation can just be about where to find the script and how to run it.)

    1. Hi Matthew, Your additions are very much appreciated! Having clear processes that are documented and followed is always going to be useful in proving that due care is being used – you’ve got me thinking about how valuable they can be in court cases too. As for automating processes… very true. I guess that is going to become increasingly important to businesses and other organisations.

What do you think?