Our Guide to IT Documentation Best Practices
Let’s face it: keeping track of all of your IT documents can be challenging, especially if you haven’t developed an organized system. Perhaps you’ve been running your business for a long time and your data is scattered all over the place or your records are out of date or backlogged. In fact, some of the most typical IT documentation challenges result from the lack of implementation of a daily service procedure. Why? The assumption is that it will be costly and time-consuming.
When managed service providers (MSPs) lack standardization, it’s typically because there’s no rhyme or reason concerning different documentation procedures between tech to tech. Tell-tale signs of this are when:
- There’s no change or release control
- The documentation lacks visuals like pictures and topographic maps
- The documentation is not properly secured.
Your IT documentation is one of your most important assets in regards to your business success. The more effective and efficient you can make your documentation practices, the better your business’ overall organization and management.
So, how do you implement a documentation strategy into your business? Let’s take a look at a few best practices we highly recommend.
What are Some IT Documentation Best Practices?
1. Automate Where You Can
Quite simply put, if you don’t have to do something because it’s automated, it makes it easier and more efficient. Would you rather spend hours cutting out pieces of confetti for a parade, or find a big bag of confetti all pre-cut and ready for you? Automation lets you skip right to the confetti throwing.
2. Prioritize Which Tasks You’ll Automate First
When you’re setting up your automation, is the first thing you think of to automate going to be that one tiny task that gets done twice a year? We hope not. Otherwise, you’re going to be doing a lot of unnecessary manual work.
Think about the tasks you and your team have to go through every day, or worse yet, multiple times a day! How nice would it be to have that work essentially do itself? Work should be about coming in and being happy to be there to do the work—not sitting around for hours at a time constantly entering tedious and boring repeated information.
So, what’s the next priority? Once you’ve got the repetitive stuff automated, you can start adding in the stuff that takes the longest to do. Anything that’s involved, complex, or time-consuming is a perfect candidate for automation.
Automation also helps you bypass those pesky little problems like “user error,” and “typos,” and other little mistakes we tend to make, and ensures that all of these tasks are done in a consistent fashion each and every time.
3. Standardize, Standardize, Standardize
It goes without saying that if your team “speaks the same language” (industry-wise, that is), they’ll be able to work together much more efficiently and effectively.
For example, if Phil decides to name a file “Process List 1 (JG)” and saves it on the network, then Warren will have a hard time finding it when he looks for “Jenkins Group Process List,” thanks to Phil and his “efficient” use of abbreviations that know nobody knows he’s using.
However, if your company standardizes its workflow (e.g., mandate a standard file naming format, such as “Jenkins Group – Process List 9-18-18”), then both Phil AND Warren know exactly what to look for when they need to pull that file up, regardless of its original author.
So, how does this “standardization” take place? Well, it starts with you. Be sure to make note of new policies and implement them into a company style guide. If you’re unfamiliar with style guides, they are essentially documentation that records specific procedures for your documentation.
We recommend creating a document style guide in this order:
- Have a meeting with your managers to discuss the need for standardization and the creation of a document style guide.
- Ask them to have a meeting with the groups they manage to hammer out the ideal standardizations for each aspect of each group.
- Decide where to store the style guide(s)—someplace easily accessible by all who need to reference them.
- Once you’ve cemented the style guide(s), make it a requirement to use and offer incentives or rewards for consistent usage.
- Make sure your managers know to include as many of their team members as possible in the creation of this style guide.
Assistance with the creation of a style guide from the entire team will encourage them to champion the cause of everyone using it. And, of course, the more who advocate the use of it, the better!
4. Get a Fresh Set of Eyes on Things
Most writers know all too well:
“The most difficult work to proofread is your own.”
Why? Because it was your brain that made the mistake, and your brain re-reading the same work. So, it makes sense that your brain will totally miss the mistake the second time because it missed it in the first place.
However, when you get someone else to review your work with a fresh pair of eyes, then their brains will probably catch the mistake, along with any others you might’ve made.
It’s the very same in almost any other business. Once you’ve got your automation flowing for any of your routine tasks, ask someone else to try it! If they can get through it without seeing any mistakes, you’re all set.
You don’t want a typo in your automated text, or something incorrect that’s set to be repeatedly generated—so it’s likely peer review will save you a lot of hassle and extra work.
5. Make It Fun
You may have some folks in your team who want to stick to their guns and keep “plugging away” the way they’ve always done it, even though there’s a faster, easier (and more automatic) way to do it.
So, maybe give them some incentive to play nice with automation? Offer some rewards for your team members who consistently utilize the system to its fullest advantages—and add even more incentives for documenting the way they did it to share with others.
6. Create “Handy-Dandy” Guides
Yeah, like this. The thing you’re reading right now.
Sure, walking someone through HOW to do something is great, but if you have it written down, complete with visual aids and guides, that’s kind of like automating your training programs!
Speak casually and avoid a ton of words in a single paragraph. Add images and animated GIFs to mix things up and show them what you’re talking about. Once you’ve made things as self-explanatory as possible, you’ve effectively removed yourself and your team members from the equation. Sure, you may have to answer a few questions later, but you can then easily direct new employees to your guides. It is much more efficient to have new employees ask questions when they already know about 90% of what they need to know, rather than starting fresh with someone who knows 0%.
All of these are great IT documentation best practices to get your team rolling more quickly, more efficiently, and—to be totally honest—more joyfully. We all need to find joy in our work, or else it’s not “work,” it’s just a daily grind. And we don’t know anyone who wants that.
MSPs often face a few typical challenges when searching for the right automation tool. It can be overwhelming to research dozens of options only to find tools they deem too complex or too costly. On the other hand, cheaper tools tend to lack features or integrations.
What you need to remember is this: IT documentation is not a “nice to have”, it’s a “need to have.” IT documentation directly impacts customer experience, and therefore, your bottom line.
If your techs can’t easily find info while your customers on the phone, not only are your techs wasting time and money, but your customers will pick up on the lack of organization and will be less likely to want to do business with you in the future.
Need some more help? Head back to the knowledge base for some more helpful tips.