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Why Process Documentation is failing at so many companies

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

All business, regardless of their size, run on processes, even if those processes are kept only in people´s minds!

You have a successful business with a decent performance; sure, you have some hiccups every now and then, everybody does, but you have a team that is willing to go the extra mile to keep the business running, you even implemented expensive software-based systems to automate some of the business functions, so, as long as you are not looking to get any ISO/TS/SOX certification anywhere soon, your processes should be fine, right?

You think you can avoid spending time and resources to create an operations/quality manual, as you might think, nobody will use them or that they will only create bureaucracy, when what you ned is a team where “everybody is willing to do anything”.

Well, this may be true, until is not…

…more than 70% of successful businesses are missing or have problems keeping an updated documented process.

In its most basic inception, a process is a series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end.

We use processes every day to complete our daily routine: from getting into our car, drive to work, turn on the computer, perform or job, and going back home, we all follow a series of steps to go through our daily lives.

However, have you ever needed to delegate some of your daily chores only to find out that even the simplest tasks were not properly performed? the next time you had to let them a written note with instructions? If so, then you are familiar on how hard is trusting that someone will follow the same process that you normally do unless is written somewhere.

Now imagine how important, (and how hard!), is for a business to document their processes!

" company normally looks back at their processes......unless they are forced to..."

Unfortunately, documenting a process is not natural thinking, meaning that is not something that comes to mind as a priority when you need to run a business (unless your business is documenting processes, of course!).

With the exception of highly regulated industries (such as healthcare, aerospace, automotive and others), where proper process documentation and traceability is an integral part of their business, to the extent that they have dedicated corporate staff to manage it, companies normally don´t have it in their agenda and treat process documentation as useless, an unnecessary burden that just to be complete as a requisite only for regulatory certification purposes.

Now imagine these scenarios:

  • You are a direct-to-consumer manufacturer looking to enter the business-to-business segment, the negotiations go well until a large potential business requires for you to be ISO certified within a short timeframe.

  • A long-time customer went through corporate changes and as result of their strengthened supplier certification requirements, they performed a deeper-than-normal quality audit on your plant which resulted in significant findings that need and urgent remediation plan risking contract renewal.

  • Due to a random event related with personnel changes, you realize that key activities were known only by the person that left the company and since their departure, those activities were not performed, and now you are facing an important audit without the information nor the evidence required.

  • After an increase in sales volume, a consumer goods distributor starts experiencing continuous errors in routinely tasks. Those frustrating “human errors/misses” are happening in so many areas that you cannot pinpoint a one single responsible as everybody thinks is someone else´s fault.

Process Documentations sound so basic that is hard to believe that these scenarios are actual examples that happened and continue happening to medium and large companies across the globe.

Unfortunately, is only when this type of scenarios happen and with the urgency they normally carry on, that business realize that their processes are not as reliable as they thought, that their current documentation is not enough to cover the ever-changing compliance requirements, and even more important, face the challenge to find the qualified resources to create/update their process documentation on-time.

Something that in normal circumstances would be easier to do.

Think in Process Documentation as an insurance, is better (and cheaper) to have it and do not use it, than need it and don´t have it!

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