They Don’t Teach Documentation in College

As we continue to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to training our employees, we’ve stumbled upon a few gems that will become staples of our training processes moving forward. One such example is with documentation.

Documentation is pretty critical for our business (or really any business of any size for that matter). If someone is sick or leaves and someone else has to take over, having a process documented can be a life saver. The same can be said of just documenting tasks for your own reference. I can’t tell you how many things I do once or twice per year where my past documentation saves me time, mistakes, and stress.

In my opinion, wiki’s are the best way to document. Our Google Apps for Business has Google Sites, which is basically their wiki software. Similar to a Google Doc, you can give permissions to wiki’s on a need-to-know basis. We have a handful of wiki’s – one for just us owners, one for everyone, and then a few for individual “departments” where access is given on an as-needed basis (accounting, for example). We write in plain English with lots of bulleted lists and screenshots and links. It’s quick and easy to use and to update.

This system has worked great for us for many years. As we started to introduce employees though, we ran in to a problem: a lot more needed to be documented. And not just documented so that we could follow it, but documented well enough so that the new employee could follow it. There was no way that we could put together training plans, write all of this documentation, and actually have time to get some work done ourselves.

The most daunting example of this was customer service. There are just so many scenarios with so many potential outcomes. But without any documentation our employees would be lost or stuck asking us questions for a very long time. So what did we do? Out of pure necessity, we had Reece create the customer service documentation as he was being trained. As he was doing this, we realized we had accidentally stumbled upon a brilliant training technique. By having a new employee document as they go, you get all sorts of advantages:

  • They ask more (and better) questions because they know they’ll be writing the documentation later on
  • It reinforces the work in a different way, as opposed to just listening, watching, and doing, they’re now writing, editing, and reading as well
  • When they actually have to reference the documentation, it’s much more likely that it will help them because they wrote and edited it
  • They instinctively look to their document the first time that scenario pops up again
  • They become trained to look at the wiki for answers first before interrupting someone
  • It becomes a natural part of their job – it’s something they do from day 1
  • And of course, it saves us a ton of work because we’re not creating the documentation

We’re now doing this with all of our employees and the results have been fantastic so far. Documentation typically isn’t a skill learned in college so for our employees fresh out of school this is a great way to teach them while also helping them get better at their job faster and saving us some time. A nice accidental discovery for us!

2 comments on They Don’t Teach Documentation in College

  1. Your posts always have really interesting timing. A lot of my new job deals with creating and maintaining online training documentation.

    It’s brilliant to have your new hires write it, because they’re living it and the questions they ask will be 100% relevant. Whereas when you’re guessing what people will need to know, there is a lot of room for errors and omissions.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Thanks Brad, glad I have such good timing 🙂 Congrats on starting the new gig, hope you’re enjoying the transition!

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