Secret key to success: Documentation

Secret Key to success: DocumentationHave you ever worked with the guy who doesn’t want to give up any control over the things they are responsible for?

You know the one who won’t document, woun’t train anyone.

The one who thinks if they are the only one who knows the system, they have job security.

The guy that never gets them promoted, and never gets them working on more exciting projects and initiatives.

I learned how to be a better manager by working with that guy, and you can too.

What did I learn from that guy?

The best way to show value is to actively work to document items and be able to hand them off to others. Build processes and not maintain systems. If I can design and document something well enough that someone else can take it over that frees me up to get a new more exciting project.

Wouldn’t you rather give work to someone who will do it right, have it well documented and can hand it off to the help desk to handle or give it to someone who will hang onto it forever not tell anyone what they are doing and resist any sort of change surrounding it? The same thing applies to management and with your staff.

If you are paying someone more to handle a task that can easily be handled by cheaper labor (or best yet, automated) you are doing your company a disservice and wasting precious resources.

Documentation is the most overlooked and quickly dropped aspect of all work everyone has. I know it, why do I need to write it down? This is the old way of thinking. By not documenting you are stuck with it, forever.  I admit many times, even this year, I have not fully documented things and been asked repeatedly about them. Case in point, this weekend, I received an urgent email about something I thought was common knowledge, but because we had a new employee looking at it, I had to help answer the question versus spending time with my family.

Convincing your staff to spend time documenting or cross training someone else can be tricky thing, if they don’t feel valued and important; they will want to hang onto these tasks.  Everyone knows someone who has had to train in their replacement or worse yet, they feel if others are involved it reduces their control over the system. Each of these requires a different approach, so you’ll need to figure out what the lack of motivation for documentation is. Either way, it starts with being honest; tell them why it needs to be documented.

If it’s the fear of losing their job:

This is easier as you only need to tell them why its beneficial to them and their future employment or to make their life easier. I generally use variations on these themes.

  • I need this written down, so that we can have the help desk do it, freeing you up for new project X or initiative Y.
  • I need this fully documented so when you’re on a vacation, you don’t have to worry about work.

If it’s a fear of losing control

This is tricky as these people care about their system, want to own their system and generally don’t tolerate mistakes. Fortunately, since they do care, and want things a certain way, this gives an opening to ensure they are in control of helping ensure whomever is their backfill knows how to do things right. It is a slower transition but needed.  I try something like this:

  • You do a great job with this system, and I know it is important to you. Since we want you ensure you have the ability to take a vacation, be sick, or not be on call every night and that the system runs almost as well as when your managing it, it needs to be documented and a backup trained. Can you train (if possible give a couple of options and let them pick who they “trust” more). You are still the primary person on this system, they are there to fill in when other projects come up that need your expertise, or are sick/on vacation.

It is hard to get people to realize that documenting is a key for success, and not a reason to let you go.



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