As your business grows, the complexity of keeping everything running smoothly and successfully rises exponentially. At first, when you’re a small business, keeping track of how everything works is pretty simple. You might even get away with knowing how it all functions without having to jot down a single note.
But as your business expands, and demand requires you to hire more employees and employ more and more complex systems and services, you’ll struggle if you don’t document everything.
You might think that documentation is really only something software engineers add to the code, so they know what does what. That’s very much true, and without that documentation, anyone that steps up to the plate to continue the work could have a horrible time getting up to speed with what the previous developer had in mind.
That same idea holds true with everything in your business.
Consider this: You have a number of services that you use for your business, each of which requires a username and password to log into and manage. If you are concerned about security (which you should be), each of those passwords will be different and will be very challenging to manage. You can’t memorize those passwords, so what do you do?
You document them.
Most often, passwords are (or should be) documented within a password manager. Because you’ve taken this extra step, anyone that needs to be onboarded to a position that must work with those services can do so with ease. Why? Because you’ve documented the usernames and passwords for those services. If you don’t do that, and you can’t remember the passwords, productivity could grind to a halt.
That doesn’t make good business sense.
The password issue serves as a good example as to why documentation is important. But there are other things you should be documenting within your business, so to avoid speed bumps and other headaches.
Let’s take a look at some of the more important aspects of your business that you should be documenting.
This one should be a no-brainer for every business person. You might get away without having an “employee handbook” at first. But as you grow, this is going to be a very important document to ensure all of your new hires (and those who’ve been around for a while) know exactly what you expect from them. If you don’t document employee policies, you could wind up dealing with chaos in the workplace.
These policies should go beyond expected workplace behavior and include things like job descriptions, security roles, BYOD rules, and collaboration expectations. In fact, if there’s something you feel your employees need to know, document it.
How many desktop computers does your business own? Laptops? Servers? Tablets? Routers, switches, phones? You get the idea. If you don’t document your hardware inventory, you not only have no idea how to claim this property for taxes, you won’t know if something goes missing.
But it’s not just about numbers. You’ll want to document hardware make/model, serial number, warranty information, purchase date, who the hardware was assigned to, the room the hardware is used, and the purpose of the hardware.
Along with the hardware inventory, you need to keep track of your software. Because so many businesses now rely heavily on the cloud, this isn’t quite as important as it once was. Even still, you will have purchased software and you need to keep track of things like purchase date, license keys, and who the software was issued to.
Next up comes an inventory of all the services you subscribe to. This will include things like cloud hosts, internet service providers, cable providers, food service providers, phones, and developer services. Any service you pay for, document it. You’ll want to keep track of the monthly/yearly costs, subscription dates, who the provider is, what services they offer, and your contact for the service.
This one is huge. If your IT staff isn’t documenting your systems, there will be trouble along the way. That staff should have created solid documentation for every system in your business. They’ll need to keep concise and complete documentation on how everything in the delivery pipeline was created, how it functions, who’s in charge of each piece of the puzzle, changes that have been made (and when they were made), and what third-party APIs or services were used in the process.
This is another important part of your business to document. Your supply chain can get very complicated, especially as you continue to grow. You’ll be adding more and more suppliers that deliver from different states or countries. For this you should be documenting every supplier, what they supply, how they deliver, how they bill, who your contact is, and even keep records of backup suppliers for everything.
Having a backup supplier documented is something you would never think of until you need it. If you don’t have a backup supplier, when/if the time comes, your business could come to a grinding halt until you locate a replacement. With the backup in the documentation, you’re good to go.
This might sound tedious—and it is. No one wants to document every single meeting that goes on in your company, but you should. You might be able to get by with not documenting every single meeting, but if a meeting is of importance, it should be documented. Having this documentation on hand will come in very handy when something goes undone or an employee challenges you on an assigned task.
So now that you know some of the things you should document, you also need to know that this documentation shouldn’t be handwritten on a legal tablet and filed in a cabinet. Instead, deploy the means to house this documentation in a digital repository. This could be in the form of a Wiki or documents stored in a cloud host. Either way, it’s crucial that you have live copies of the documentation that can be easily accessed and updated.
If you take the time to fully document your company, things will run exponentially smoother, especially when something happens that might otherwise put a wrench into the works of progress.