Internal Documentation: Why Do We Need It?
by Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp — all-in-one help authoring tool
As time goes by, any company accumulates valuable information, from FAQs, and industry know-how, to procedures and best practices. But at some companies, this knowledge remains scattered across e-mails, docs, or even undocumented. This is not a productive way to deal with company knowledge. What we get eventually is repeating the same mistakes when solving problems and wasting time searching for the information we need.
A solution here is simple — organizing your business knowledge into internal documentation.
So, what is internal documentation, and how it can help? Internal documentation is a written record of your company’s processes stored in one place that your employees can use to complete their work. In contrast to external documentation which is for customers.
There exist different internal documentation types. And you need to be aware of them before you begin your technical writing.
- Team documentation is owned by specific teams in your company. This documentation includes important topics like style guides, goals, team strategy, and more.
- Project documentation relates to a particular project. Some examples include project roadmaps, project management plans, software documentation, technical documentation, product requirements, etc.
- Process documentation describes various procedures and workflows needed to properly execute a particular business process. Some examples include standard operating procedures, knowledge maps, etc.
- Onboarding documentation. This type of “readme” documentation needs to be threaded into every employee onboarding when getting started and should be a constant reference point for current employees. Onboarding and user documentation should include HR processes and company-wide policies for new team members. It’s also a good idea to give an overview of the company structure and people.
Benefits of Internal Documentation
It’s no secret that many companies see internal docs as a waste of time and resources, thinking no one will read it anyway. It may be true if your documentation is disorganized and incomplete; no one would want to read it cause it is hard to get much value here. But high-quality internal documentation is worth the effort, and here’s why:
- Better onboarding. When new employees start at your company, senior employees must spend valuable time training these new employees. Strong internal documentation practices give your new team members a source of knowledge they can use to address different aspects of their new role. It’s a helpful supplement in a fragile onboarding period and a great way to give your new team members some autonomy and independence.
- Productivity improvement. Without internal documentation, finding the information you need can be a challenge. Having relevant documentation available means that your employees spend less time searching for information, which improves their productivity and allows your team to get things done without asking repetitive questions or repeating each other’s mistakes.
- Knowledge sharing process arranged. Sometimes important information and expertise stay siloed in the brains of your team members. What happens when those people leave? They take their knowledge with them unless it’s been documented. It should be commonplace to get this insider knowledge out of people’s brains and documented. When you fail to document your knowledge, you are in danger of losing vital assets whenever an employee goes on vacation, sick leave, or leaves altogether. Internal documentation means that you retain knowledge for future use, guarding against employee attrition.
Tips to Manage Internal Documentation
Now that we know why we need internal documentation let’s see how to manage it. The mere existence of internal documentation is not enough to make these benefits a reality. Such documentation needs to be accurate, accessible, and up-to-date. Here are some best practices for creating and maintaining internal documentation.
- Choose the right tool. There are many documentation tools that you can use for your internal documentation. An ideal internal documentation tool should:
- be easily editable even by non-technical users,
- provide a reliable search function,
- have intuitive navigation,
- make it easy to organize content,
- and integrate with other tools to keep all your project assets in sync.
Whichever documentation tool you pick, the important thing is to select one solution and not let your documentation spread across multiple tools.
- Assess your content. When you start your project of building your internal documentation, you’re likely to already have many knowledge assets hidden away in various company communication tools. Bring these documents together into one place as a starting point for organizing your internal documentation. You’ll be taking advantage of documentation that already exists. If you’re starting from scratch, then first identify which employees are in charge of the processes you’re looking to document so you can enlist their help to create documentation.
- Assign the experts. Make sure you’re working with members of every team to create content. If your employees are not professional technical writers, they will need help with writing content. Establish a content review process so you can take control of the content and make sure it is being written to a good standard.
- Plan the structure. Your internal documentation needs a structure so employees can browse and discover content easily. Make sure to use plenty of section headers and bullet points to make your documents skimmable and not overwhelming. The last thing anyone wants is an unstructured mess, which will simply deter employees from using your documentation and have them going back to their old ways. It’s important to invest in the information architecture of your internal documentation.
- Use visuals. Instead of relying solely on text, use screenshots, flowcharts, and mockups — whatever makes sense in the context and helps illustrate your point. It will improve the documentation experience and engage your employees more than text alone. Luckily some documentation tools, such as ClickHelp, allow you to embed interactive media content directly into your docs.
- Keep it updated. With internal documentation, there are always some updates, it evolves as your organization evolves. Update your docs to keep them in line with company policies and procedures, and revisit your internal documentation often. Schedule quarterly audits of all your content so you can determine whether anything is out-of-date or just plain wrong.
- Get feedback. Actively ask for their feedback to get an idea of how well your content is working. Make sure to use a knowledge base that will allow you to set up a commenting function on each article where employees can take the opportunity to collaborate in real-time. Check your analytics to find out the terms users are searching for and which ones aren’t getting any results.
The easiest way is to write off internal documentation as an unnecessary formality. But as you may conclude from the above, implementing excellent documentation practices will ensure that you and your team are ready to handle different unexpected circumstances. Their productivity will increase, and your organization will lessen the risk of losing essential knowledge.
Have a nice day!
Bradley Nice, Content Manager at ClickHelp.com — best online documentation tool for SaaS vendors