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Why spend effort documenting processes

By ITIL® from Experience©

When everyone agrees on how to do business there is a tendency to skip documenting the process and procedures. Putting things down on paper in a document with detailed instructions is often seen as an unnecessary expense and a waste of time.

The temptation to skip documentation is there especially if getting people around the table for a discussion was a challenge in the first place. Moreover, depending on the personalities involved getting them to agree on how to do to do things is sometimes no small victory! Thus, people may feel that the last thing they need is to give stakeholders another opportunity to open a debate to question what was agreed.

Even though memory based processes are less costly to implement, they have shortcomings. For example, they are more prone to errors, they are difficult to execute consistently unless a lot of time is spent job shadowing and memorizing tasks and instructions.

Regardless of the motivation to skip documentation the benefits of documenting the process1 and procedure2 or work instructions3 are that it:

  • Helps standardize training of new employees instead of relying on word-of-mouth knowledge transfer
  • Records corporate knowledge related to this process
  • Helps with succession planning and perhaps even with IT Service Continuity Management
  • Forces a more detailed conversation and dialogue on how the work will be executed at the task or activity4 level to ensure that the design does not create operational issues
  • Makes people realize the level of effort this process will require from them
  • Serves as a formal agreement between process stakeholders
  • Serves as a starting point for continuous improvement
  • Makes it easier to bring back people to the process if/when they deviate from it over time


Perhaps more importantly, when process issues arise a document helps focus the conversation on what is wrong with the process, procedures and document instead of focusing on what people are doing wrong, thus it can avoid the blame game.

In fact “Even formalization of mostly existing procedures will deliver cultural change”
(ITIL® v3, 2007, Service Transition p. 201, Section 8.1.4 Cultural change aspects.)


Published on: 2013-03-06
Last updated on: 2017-06-04

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Implementation > Process


1. Process: A structured set of activities designed to accomplish a specific objective. A process takes one or more defined inputs and turns them into defined outputs. It may include any of the roles, responsibilities, tools and management controls required to reliably deliver the outputs. A process may define policies, standards, guidelines, activities and work instructions if they are needed. Source: ITIL® glossary and abbreviations, English, 2011 https://www.axelos.com/Corporate/media/Files/Glossaries/ITIL_2011_Glossary_GB-v1-0.pdf
2. Procedure: A document containing steps that specify how to achieve an activity. Procedures are defined as part of processes. See also work instruction. Source: Ibid
3. A document containing detailed instructions that specify exactly what steps to follow to carry out an activity. A work instruction contains much more detail than a procedure and is only created if very detailed instructions are needed. Source: Ibid
4. Activity: A set of actions designed to achieve a particular result. Activities are usually defined as part of processes or plans, and are documented in procedures. Source: Ibid.




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