Creating a Culture of Documentation

In the last three years, dozens of people on our agency team have contributed more than one thousand knowledge base articles to our internal documentation.

Our agency wasn’t founded with one thousand KBs, but we were founded with a culture of documentation.

I knew that in order to achieve my goals, I couldn’t do it alone. I would need to build a team.

And they would need to execute as well, or better than I could.

😍 Un-ignorable Benefits

I get it – you’re busy building a business.

Trying to keep your head above water.

But chances are you don’t know how dramatically helpful documentation can be on your journey.

I’ve never worked in a business with internal documentation until I started the content agency, and the same is true for everyone I’ve polled in our organization.

But if you’ve never worked in a company with a culture of documentation – here’s what you should know.

Documenting stuff isn’t just for agencies.

It’s for every type of business – and every business function.

When you pull it off, crazy things start happening.

You enable the people you hire to do something as well, or better than you can.

Junior level team members start to punch above their weight.

You’re finally able to hold your team accountable to executing their responsibilities in a specific way, every time.

You’ll find yourself spending less time repeating repeating yourself.

It takes your team less time to ramp up new team members.

Your knowledge transfer doesn’t walk out of the door with attrition, and new team members have a base to build upon.

Your workload gets more and more async as the need for real-time collaboration decreases.

Your team spends less time organizing work in meetings and more time working.

You start to see increases in efficiency by keeping people unblocked with clear, specific instructions.

💪 Implementation

This is the first, and most important step. Everyone on your team is busy, if you don’t make time to create documentation they won’t either. Not in the beginning.

You also need to figure out your documentation standards – the level of quality that you’re going to hold your team accountable to. You’ll only develop this by digging in, and learning what it’s like to actually create good documentation.

Expect to create the first 30 – 50 docs before you can roll out creation responsibilities to your team.


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♬ original sound – NickFromSeattle

Just Start Somewhere

There are a bunch of different approaches on where to start.

Here are some ideas to get your juices flowing.

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Use It

Now it’s time to get your team consuming the initial push of docs you’ve created.

Whenever anyone on the team asks a question that’s answered in the KB, link them to the KB instead of answering the question directly.

Whenever someone asks a question, makes a mistake, or improves on something that’s been documented – use that as an opportunity to make your documentation better.

Learn how to build a culture of meeting notes.

Use a dedicated app

Your internal KB needs to give your team the information they need – when they need – easily. This part is critical for adoption. The harder information is to find, the less usage you’ll see.

On first appearances, Google Docs seems to work.

But it doesn’t last long.

Discoverability begins to suffer at around 50 KBs across a handful of business functions.

  1. Google Docs lacks a nested view
  2. It’s not easy to internal link to other relevant docs
  3. The search functionality doesn’t do the job
  4. Shared drives have more friction than the alternative ways to silo information

We tried to stave off the inevitable by building an index of the Google Docs in Airtable.

But nobody kept it up to date.

We heard Notion was slow, and we didn’t need the PM level functionality because we’re already in-love with Airtable.

So we signed up for Slite.

Looping in your team

You’re finally ready to start asking your team to contribute documentation.

There’s one last step.

You need to create a doc, on how to create docs.

This doc needs to include:

  1. Naming conventions
  2. Internal linking requirements
  3. Linking to required external resources
  4. Organizational standards (where do you put the KB?)
  5. Sharing and security policies

Alright, now you’re ready.

Start with holding your direct reports accountable.

Once they’ve gotten their reps in and built a habit, you’re ready to start rolling it out to their direct reports. The rest of the people in your organization can’t be held accountable until your direct reports are held accountable.

Scope documentation into your team’s workload

You’re almost there – but you’re not there yet. Your team actually needs to start creating documentation. And the only way that will happen is if you scope it into their weekly / monthly / quarterly goals.

If you give your team a full plate AND documentation – guess what won’t get done.

Keeping your knowledge base up to date

If your team is successful, and you do build a culture of documentation – congrats!

You earned more work.

Your documentation needs to be kept up to date.

Especially in the beginning.

Your team might be creating documentation – but it won’t be as good as it could be. There’s going to be organization and naming conventions issues. People will forget internal links, and internal links will change.

Every three to six months we map out which major processes we’d like to refresh, and map these to our bi-monthly sprints.

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