If you’re like most business owners, you are always looking for ways to improve efficiency and streamline operations. In this endeavor it is almost impossible a) not to come across the topic of process documentation and b) not to be overwhelmed by guides and comparisons promising to review the best process documentation software out there.
But how do you know that a tool is actually right for your business? We will take a step back and start from the beginning. This is a detailed guide for how to select from the ocean of process documentation software out there. We will discuss the different types of process documentation, their benefits and use cases. Then we will introduce you to some exemplary software tools in each category. With this guide you can make a well-informed decision on how to choose the process documentation tool that is right for your company.
Before process documentation software – different types of process documentation
As its name suggests, process mapping is the process of creating a visual representation, or map, of a process. This process can be a business process, such as the steps involved in fulfilling an order. It could also be a more technical process, like the steps required to install a piece of software. A process map typically includes all key steps and decision points in a process and assign responsibilities.
What are the main benefits of process maps?
- Makes complex processes more understandable
- Helps to identify process improvements
- Can be used as a training tool
A process map makes complex processes more understandable for those who are not familiar with it. It provides an overview over existing processes and how they are related. Process maps thus make it much easier to see where potential bottlenecks or inefficiencies may lie. As a result, this facilitates changes to the process to improve efficiency. As a training tool, they help new employees learn about process networks and understand their role in it.
Flowcharts are similar to process maps in that they provide a visual representation of a process. However, while process maps tend to focus on the individual steps involved in a process, flowcharts also show the sequence in which these steps need to be carried out. Flowcharts can be used to document both manual and automated processes.
What are the main benefits of process maps?
- Can help to improve process efficiency
- Identifies crucial decision-making points
As with process maps, process flows make processes more understandable for those who are not familiar with it. This is particularly useful for new employees or for people who only carry out a small part of the process. By mapping particular sequences of process steps, you can see the direct effects of one process element on another.
Standard operating procedures (SOPs)
SOPs are detailed written instructions that explain how a process should be carried out. They are useful for complex or critical processes that need to be carried out correctly and consistently. SOPs usually cover all aspects of a process, including any potential problems that could occur and how to deal with them. They are much more detailed than process maps and flowcharts.
What are the main benefits of SOPs?
- Helps to ensure process consistency
- Makes process details more accesible
SOPs help ensure that a complex process is carried out consistently every time, which is particularly important for complex or critical processes. They help improve efficiency by avoiding errors. SOPs can also make complex processes more accessible for those who are not familiar with them.
Step-by-step instructions are similar to SOPs in that they are written instructions that explain how a process should be carried out. However, step-by-step instructions are much more specific and provide detailed instructions on exactly what needs to be done at each stage of a particular process. This makes them particularly useful for processes that are carried out by people who are not familiar with them. Given their specific focus, step-by-step instructions are usually much shorter than SOPs.
What are the main benefits of step-by-step instructions?
- Makes detailed processes reproducible
- Helps to minimize errors
The highly detailed nature of step-by-step instructions means that they can make even the most complex or nitty-gritty reproducible to those unfamiliar with them. This is particularly useful for employees lacking everyday working experience for the task.
The level of detail in step-by-step instructions also means that they can minimize errors in completing processes, as employees will know exactly what they need to do at each stage of the process.
Checklists are simple lists of the steps involved in a process. They ensure that all the necessary steps are carried out in a simple and efficient way. You may want to use them for relatively simple processes, or as part of a larger process. For example, a checklist may be used to carry out a daily data backup or to check that all the necessary steps have been carried out before a launch.
What are the main benefits of checklists?
- Helps to ensure process consistency
- Simple and accessible
Checklists help to ensure that all the necessary steps in a process are carried out every time. This can help to improve efficiency and avoid gaps in the process. They simplify processes by breaking them down into simpler steps.
To sum up, a range of process documentation is available to meet different needs. The type of process documentation you need, as well as the size and complexity of your process determines which tool is right for you. If you’re not sure which tool is suitable for which kind of process documentation, we have compiled a brief overview below.
Tool check: Different kinds of process documentation software
Now that you know about the different types of process documentation, you may wonder which tool allows you to create which one of them. For each category we have picked what we find one of the top tools available. We provide a brief overview for you so you know what each tool allows you to do.
FlowShare: Your step-by-step process documentation software
Image: screenshot of homepage
FlowShare users love the tool for its ease of use and ability to produce accessible and instructive step-by-step guides. The rating of 4.8 stars on Capterra is a telling account of user’s approval.
Upon launching, the software runs in the background while users work. It documents every click through a screenshot all of which are merged into one comprehensive guide. Moreover, automatically generated text descriptions of the actions performed are always included. Users have the ability to annotate the screenshots after recording, edit the texts, and adapt the design to fit their company branding.
Thanks to a wide range of export formats and integrations, the finished instructions can easily be integrated into existing structures and shared with colleagues.
FlowShare runs on Windows and is compatible with any application, whether it is online or desktop based. Because the software is installed locally your data is always safe with you. These features make FlowShare a unique process documentation tool in terms of applicability and data protection. You can find out what people use FlowShare for by exploring our use cases.
FlowShare comes in different plans for individuals or small teams, bigger teams, as well as enterprises. Create unlimited instructions for free for 14 days with FlowShare’s trial version, no credit card or financial commitment needed.
Lucidchart: Creating insightful process maps and flowcharts
With 4.5 of 5 stars, based on 1000+ reviews on Capterra, Lucidchart is a highly popular choice for creating process maps and flowcharts with your team.
The option to visually map out your processes and flows, while assigning the different steps to your colleagues makes for a great collaboration tool to scale your workflows and optimize your processes.
A number of templates make it easy for you to get started with your maps. Additionally, plenty of integrations with popular tools like the Office tools, Atlassian, and many more allow you to integrate Lucidchart into your pre-existing structures.
Lucidchart offers different plans for individuals, teams, and enterprises, starting from 8€ per month (excl. VAT). Each plan has a free trial version. Those interested in a one-time visualization Lucidchart even offers a small-scale free version. With it, you may create up to three documents.
Process Street: Writing instructive SOPs
Simple process and workflow management is the spiel of Process Street, a software highly appreciated by its many users. With 4.7 stars on Capterra, it is a top-rated tool for creating and managing your company’s SOP’s.
With Process Street, you can create collaborative workflows and multiply them. Then, simply assign them to your team and track the progress made. The tool allows you to create conditional workflows and approval instances for critical steps in the process. This way you guarantee oversight and compliance in processes. A scheduling tool allows you to manage recurring flows.
The tool integrates with over 3000 apps – ideal for companies that have a well-established structure of software and processes. It has multiple functions for ensuring smooth communication across teams of all sizes.
Process Street has plans for different needs. They range from a free plan to create one single workflow, to Pro and Custom Enterprise versions. The Pro version can be tested for free, no credit card required.
Trello: For simple checklists and task-tracking
To be honest, Trello is so much more than a checklist tool. But in the realm of process documentation task-tracking in the style of checklists is its main strength. With over 22,000 reviews on Capterra, Trello is by far the most used and rated tool presented here.
Boards, Lists, and Cards is Trello’s main currency. With them you can create and track different steps in processes in the simplest of ways. Such a system may create less of an oversight over all existing processes and how they are related. However, as for the individual steps required to complete a process, you can see an entire process at a glance.
Many Trello functions can be used for free. But for teams that want more sophisticated and secure versions, Trello offers different paid plans starting from $5 a month.
Benefits of different process documentation (software) at a glance
|Purpose||Main benefit||Software example|
|Process maps||Overview of processes and their connection||Helps understand processes as a whole and their connection||Lucidchart|
|Flowcharts||Overview over sequences||Helps understand how process steps affect others||Lucidchart|
|SOPs||Detailed overview over processes and critical areas||Helps understand process details including critical nodes||Process Street|
|Step-by-step instructions||Highly detailed overview over each step in a process and how to complete it||Helps understand each step of a process and how to complete them||FlowShare|
|Checklists||Abstraction of steps in processes needed to be done||Ensures each crucial element of process is completed||Trello|
Takeaways: Choosing the right process documentation software
In sum, these are different types of process documentation and most of the time, software tools aim at one of the types. Thus, knowing which type of documentation fits your needs already narrows down your options significantly. Finally, you will not know if a software is right unless you try it out. Many providers offer a free trial period to see whether the tool actually lives up to your expectations. Be sure to make use of such trials and you should be able to find the process documentation software that is right for you.
You can start testing FlowShare immediately, by downloading the free trial version. With this trial version, you can create an unlimited amount of step-by-step instructions free of charge for 14 days!
Create an unlimited number of guides,
free for 14 days.
No restrictions, no obligations, no credit card needed. Only pay if you love it after your trial.