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Write It Down: Process Documentation from the Ground Up

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The collective knowledge base of an organization can be difficult to crack. Some things have "always been done that way" but no one knows why. This talk will help to expose those undocumented corners of your project, and give you tools for writing process documentation for new contributors using lessons from Not-For-Profit organizations.

In my spare time, I volunteer with a non-profit historical recreation group called the Society for Creative Anachronism. As a long-time member of this group, I am occasionally called on to lead events, coordinate activities, and herd a variety of cats. I have discovered a number of gaps in the group processes for things that “everyone knows,” and have been working to write up guides so that other people don’t experience the same levels of frustration. These same documentation principles apply to open source organizations as well, as both types of groups tend to be volunteer-heavy, and can be prone to skipping the basics. In this talk, I discuss ways to evaluate your existing process documentation, guidelines for creating new documentation, and related methods of communicating with volunteers.

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Write It Down: Process Documentation from the Ground Up

  1. 1. Write It Down: Process Documentation from the Ground Up Kat Toomajian Dreamwidth Studios LLC Misskat.dreamwidth.org :: @zarhooie #ProcDocOSB
  2. 2. About Me l Dreamwidth Studios LLC l Support Team Lead l Community and Volunteer Support l Allstate Insurance l Total Loss Rental Coordinator l Volunteer l Society for Creative Anachronism l Regional Manager for artwork distribution l CONvergence Con l Operations Dept subhead for inter-department communication
  3. 3. About Me l Dreamwidth Studios LLC l Support Team Lead l Community and Volunteer Support l Allstate Insurance l Total Loss Rental Coordinator l Volunteer l Society for Creative Anachronism l Regional Manager for artwork distribution l CONvergence Con l Operations Dept subhead for inter-department communication
  4. 4. Process Documentation – Creates a document from which a thing can be reliably recreated by different people
  5. 5. What does it look like? ● Wiki ● Physical document ● *~*~Flowchart~*~* ● Internal web page ● ???
  6. 6. What it should NOT look like ● A mess – Unorganized stack of papers – Defunct web link – Spam-filled wiki – Out-of-date ANYTHING ● Takes maintenance – Amount will vary
  7. 7. Why is it important? ● Consistency and Reliability ● Ease of Use ● Reference Material ● Collective Knowledge Base ● Historical Documentation
  8. 8. Basics of Documentation ● Do the thing you do ● Write everything down ● Distill into coherent and useful document ● Make it available ● It's ok to hire someone to do this for you. – Documentation Superheroes do exist
  9. 9. How should we think about this? ● Baking cookies – Making the cookies = process – Recipe = documentation ● Mom's cookie vs Aunt Jane's cookie ● Micro and Macro variations
  10. 10. The Generals ● Create an outline ● What do you want to document? – Get specific ● Why do you want to document it? ● Who is my target audience? ● How do I want to format it?
  11. 11. The Generals ● Create an outline ● What do you want to document? – Get specific ● Why do you want to document it? ● Who is my target audience? ● How do I want to format it?
  12. 12. Formatting ● Wiki – Rapid updates – Multiple contributors – Scaleable ● Web page – More static – Limited contributors – Multimedia ● ~*~*Flowcharts*~*~ – Any media – Visual representation – They are my fav ● Physical document – Won't change often – Any size – Not multimedia
  13. 13. Formatting ● Wiki – Rapid updates – Multiple contributors – Scaleable ● Web page – More static – Limited contributors – Multimedia ● ~*~*Flowcharts*~*~ – Any media – Visual representation – They are my fav ● Physical document – Won't change often – Any size – Not multimedia
  14. 14. Best Practices ● Keep it simple ● Lots of pictures ● Explain what you're doing ● Explain WHY you're doing it
  15. 15. Level of Detail ● Meet people where they are ● Determine knowledge baseline ● Presentation method limitations ● High-level vs Nitty-Gritty
  16. 16. Level of Detail ● Meet people where they are ● Determine knowledge baseline ● Presentation method limitations ● High-level vs Nitty-Gritty
  17. 17. Know Your Audience ● Who is actually using this document? ● What are they trying to accomplish? ● What do they know already? – Jargon ● What do they NOT know?
  18. 18. Know Your Audience ● Who is actually using this document? ● What are they trying to accomplish? ● What do they know already? – Jargon ● What do they NOT know?
  19. 19. Know Your Audience ● Who is actually using this document? ● What are they trying to accomplish? ● What do they know already? – Jargon ● What do they NOT know?
  20. 20. Does It Exist? ● Is the thing you're referring to actually a thing which exists in this plane? ● If they don't exist – Create them into being OR – Don't reference them
  21. 21. Proof Your Stuff ● Proofreading – Spelling, grammar, etc – No simple mistakes ● Copy Editing – Format, punctuation, information distribution – Easy to read ● Beta Reading – Consistency, clarity, take out useless stuff
  22. 22. Proof Your Stuff ● Proofreading – Spelling, grammar, etc – No simple mistakes ● Copy Editing – Format, punctuation, information distribution – Easy to read ● Beta Reading – Consistency, clarity, take out useless stuff
  23. 23. ~*~*Flowcharts*~*~ ● I really love flowcharts ● Visual representation of concepts – People who learn differently ● Insurance story time! ● Chains of Command – Who they are, when to contact, how to contact, etc
  24. 24. ~*~*Flowcharts*~*~ ● I really love flowcharts ● Visual representation of concepts – People who learn differently ● Insurance story time! ● Chains of Command – Who they are, when to contact, how to contact, etc
  25. 25. Jargon ● More insurance story time! ● Explaining things takes longer – That is okay sometimes – Depends on format ● Jargon is sometimes unavoidable – Make it easy to learn
  26. 26. Jargon ● More insurance story time! ● Explaining things takes longer – That is okay sometimes – Depends on format ● Jargon is sometimes unavoidable – Make it easy to learn
  27. 27. Jargon ● More insurance story time! ● Explaining things takes longer – That is okay sometimes – Depends on format ● Jargon is sometimes unavoidable – Make it easy to learn http://wiki.dreamwidth.net/wiki/index.php/Common_Jargon
  28. 28. Explain What and Why ● Story time! ● Reasons are not always obvious at first – Do your research ● Be explicit – “Because Rah Said So” ● “Always been done that way” != good reason ● “It's more comfortable for me” = good reason – Explore the why
  29. 29. Explain What and Why ● Story time! ● Reasons are not always obvious at first – Do your research ● Be explicit – “Because Rah Said So” ● “Always been done that way” != good reason ● “It's more comfortable for me” = good reason – Explore the why
  30. 30. Explain What and Why ● Story time! ● Reasons are not always obvious at first – Do your research ● Be explicit – “Because Rah Said So” ● “Always been done that way” != good reason ● “It's more comfortable for me” = good reason – Explore the why
  31. 31. Explain the Steps ● With reasoning, people are less likely to skip steps ● The Why is part of the internal process – I do not advocate for being hit by a bus
  32. 32. Talk to People ● Review processes with target audience ● Create a safe space ● Take note of concerns ● Not a one-step process
  33. 33. Step Four: PROFIT ● You now have tools! – Try using them! ● Practice – Document something simple – Not work related
  34. 34. Questions?

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