How to write a process manual (job bible) for a wide-ranging job?
April 23, 2014 1:28 PM   Subscribe

I need to build a process manual for my multifaceted job. Have you done this? What have you found to be the smartest approach? How did you divide your time/organize your manual? Which applications/tools are best for organizing/producing what will be a monstrous tome, and how do I go about it?

(NB: The company did not request this of me. Creating this guide is entirely my choice. It’s worth it to me in the long run to have detailed instructions to which I can refer and share with others.)

I have Microsoft Word at work and at home. I have Scrivener at home. I have the “Awesome Screenshot” Chrome plug-in. I would like to describe, in detail, everything that I do, step by step, with screenshots and annotations, for all imaginable tasks. Exhaustive is what I’m going for. I don’t expect to finish this anytime soon, but I want to start right away.

I wear several hats at my (new-to-me) job, from creating e-marketing campaigns, to processing new employees (which involves correspondence and the exchange of monies with various city and state agencies), to data entry and manipulation in proprietary software. On any given day, I will use between ten and twenty-five discrete websites in the course of my job, each of which has its own peculiarities, along with our company’s vast intranet and online tools.

I also function as de facto levels one and two tech support (from “did you try turning it off and on again” to “give me the computer’s IP address so I can remote in and reset server access”).

Finally, I share standard admin chores (phones, post, supplies, etc.) with three other multi-hatted comrades.

I asked if there were any kind of guide, either in print or online, for my position, but apparently this company has relied upon the “here’s a bunch of stuff the person in your position does; good luck” method of training employees for about sixty years, even as technology has drastically changed the industry.

I want to make a detailed process manual for everything that I do, so that any future employee in my position at any of our offices throughout the state will have a handbook to give them a head-start.

(Also, I want to take a vacation at some point in the not-to-distant future, and right now there’s no one else who knows how to do all of the things that I do.)

Most importantly – how do I not let this overwhelm me? I have two months’ worth of hastily scribbled notes on everything I’ve been learning since I was hired, and I need to organize them now. There are already too many of them all over the place.

All advice welcome.

(One caveat: we use Windows 7 at work, but everything at home is Mac. I know Word will translate back and forth, but I can’t do screen capture of the different website interfaces or databases at home, because it would be useless for illustrative purposes. I can organize my notes with Scrivener at home, but not at work.)
posted by A neighbourhood park all covered with cheese to Work & Money (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You don't write a process guide for your whole job - you write a separate one for each of those many hats you wear. That lets you divide-and-conquer, prioritize according to the most important/complex/difficult roles, and avoid being overwhelmed.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:32 PM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you'll be happiest doing this in Evernote. Start with the free level just to see. If you decide against it, export your work into HTML files so you can move the content somewhere else. If you decide that it is the right tool for you, notice how you can share it with coworkers (paid version especially for this). Evernote will give you an easy interface, accessibility from anywhere with an Internet connection, share-ability, search, tagging, and organizing into "stacks". That's a lot of what you really want -- to do it quickly, to find it easily, and to be able to share.

For the work you do in software systems, start with a copy/paste of the pertinent topics in the online help system, and then modify from there with your specific notes.
posted by Houstonian at 1:43 PM on April 23, 2014

Whenever you start a process (creating an e-marketing campaign, for instance), decide what Step 1 is and what "Completed" is, and then outline the steps between them. I wouldn't try to take on your whole job, I would take each discreet process and then when you have outlined all of them, I would make connections.
posted by xingcat at 1:45 PM on April 23, 2014

There was a process manual for my job when I started. It was full of weird details that made no sense, and I had to keep asking for clarification. It turned out that my predecessor wrote the manual when they started the job, several years prior. Once they got used to the job, they didn't update the manual very much. So the manual was partly helpful to me, and partly outdated/misleading. Honestly, it was kind of a wash compared to not having a manual, in my opinion.

I think if you try to keep your manual updated as technology continues to change the company, and to make it useful not just to you but to all future employees in every office, you may find that becomes a part-time job in itself.

There are portions of my job that I get to delegate whenever extra help is available. I prioritize keeping the process manual updated for the tasks I can delegate. Even for that, I mostly just do bullet points.

-Frequency (weekly, monthly)
-Resources (website url, where to find login info, which coworker has the numbers you need)
-Example (location of last month's report)
-Routing (who do you email it to; where do you store it)

I wouldn't bother with screenshots of websites. Websites get reorganized so often, you'll very quickly end up with a collection of screenshots of what various websites used to look like.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 2:06 PM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I did this when I left my last job, and I used Word with the TOC feature. It worked just fine.

I've been using the free software Jing for screenshots, it's really easy and you can easily add callouts, arrows, etc.
posted by radioamy at 2:20 PM on April 23, 2014

Wiki on a stick. (The article assumes Windows, but XAMPP runs on OS/X and Linux as well.)
posted by at at 4:57 PM on April 23, 2014

You know, I had a similar (and yet not similar) question a few months ago. I'll link it here in case it interests you. at's response reminded me of it, because wiki on a stick was exactly what I tried first. It was marvelous -- marvelous! -- until I found out that Symantec Endpoint Protection (at work) disabled my ability to use it after about 2 days. Lesson: Try it out, but don't spend too much time on it until you are sure you can run things from a flash drive. (If you can, go for it!)
posted by Houstonian at 5:17 PM on April 23, 2014

I did this for my last job, for the main task I completed every week. I ended up producing a guide that is being used by not only the person who replaced me, but their boss too.

The two things that helped me:

1. Think about many different ways of explaining tasks and processes. Learning styles differ, so if you can, try to make your guide cater to these.

2. Often it's not the standard procedure that is complicated, it's when things go wrong or you have special situations that things get tricky. I spent much more time explaining the most common non-standard situations, and how to handle them, rather than the normal ones.

When you have a draft, get lots of people (they don't have to necessarily be familiar with your line of work at all) to read it through and check that it's easy to read and has enough detail. Re-draft. Rinse and repeat.

Good luck!
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 7:53 PM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love LICEcap for making animated GIFs for things like this. I don't know how well GIFs work within Word documents.
posted by yaymukund at 11:49 AM on April 24, 2014

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