GUIDE TO PROCESS DOCUMENTATION SOFTWARE
Top 5 business process documentation tools
Business process documentation tools have come a long way too, and in this short article, we keep you up-to-date with the five most widely used tools and their pros and cons.
Keeping up with the times demands constant effort otherwise before you know it, you’re like one of those mums or dads who asks what a Twitter is and thinks LOL means “lots of love”. Hint: you know you’re a mum or dad if you swear by Microsoft Word.
Caveat: the tool is not the goal
Before we jump into looking at the different tools out there, we need to highlight the fact that the tool isn’t the goal. The goal is the people in your organisation actually using and benefiting from the process documentation. Otherwise, what’s the point of creating it? So the question is which one or combination is the best for achieving this? Pick your tool by determining which one will encourage use, consumption and co-creation. (If your company demographic is stacked with mums and dads who think playing solitaire is pretty neat, then – as loath as we are to say this – Microsoft Word might not be out of the question.)
Hold up, what’s a business process documentation tool?
It’s the important work of recording, mapping and explaining the ongoing processes occurring in an organisation. Be that a process for arranging a foreign sales trip, hiring a new CTO or managing booze funds in the staff Christmas party account. The point is to ensure you understand the process – the flow of work – that needs to be done. For this, you need a process diagram – ideally connected with visual work instructions in the form of video, images and files easily accessible from it. It adds a lot of value as this process documentation case study shows.
Looking to go further than merely documenting processes? Then take a look at our guide to process management software.
8 key considerations for selecting the best process documentation tool
Before we look at the top five, let’s first consider what functions in an ideal world make a business process documentation tool the most effective.
- It can be accessed and shared easily: this is important because otherwise the documentation won’t be used or reviewed properly. As a result, it won’t reflect reality.
- It makes collaborating easy: this is especially helpful in companies with more than a handful of people. The bigger the firm, the more helpful collaboration is.
- It’s mobile friendly: When you and your people are on the move, accessing documentation via mobile devices is essential.
- It’s online: Having access wherever you are, at whichever workstation, makes life easier.
It integrates other tools: There are a number of other tools, such as Gsuite and Confluence, that support process documentation and it’s helpful when you can use them in an integrated way.
- It does more than one thing: Some tools are great for writing notes or instructions, others are better for creating complex process maps. But what if you have one tool that can do it all?
- It’s user-friendly: Ever looked at an interface and felt like you’re dying inside? That’s a sign it’s not user-friendly. Instead, a tool should be easily usable by even your colleague Jim who swears by Microsoft Word 2003.
- It balances functionality with simplicity: Too many functions and options and poor old Jim will lose his shit, while too few and it’s useful to no one. It’s about having just enough to be simple and effective.
The top 5 best process documentation software
When we say top, what do we mean? We mean the most widely used tools. Which one is the best is a different question. The answer depends on you, your business, people and processes. We hope that by looking at the options you get closer to the answer.
The offline process documentation tools
Remember those crazy days of installing software and sending around files by email? Or placing them in SharePoint (where they’re never seen again). Welcome to the offline world.
Good old, trusty Microsoft Word. Quite a tool. Excellent for writing your thesis or a six-book fantasy series. But for documenting your business processes? Here are the pros and cons.
Pros: Everyone has it and knows it. The end.
Cons: You work in files that are a hassle to save, share, collaborate on and find. To view Word documents in mobile devices, the right apps and plugins are required. Upshot: It’s clunky.
No image is needed here! We all know it.
Microsoft’s Office suite might have moved online, but Visio hasn’t. It’s a heavy programme that appears to have reached a dead end in terms of development.
Pros: If you’re Elon Musk and want to design a process for sending people to Mars, then the advanced diagram features and options in Visio could come in handy. But we doubt Mr Musk would find it user-friendly enough.
- Because of its very expensive license, only a few privileged souls will be editing. Everyone else will be out of the loop.
- It’s so feature-rich that it’s difficult to keep it simple.
- Every time you want to use it, you have to find, open and close a file.
- It’s difficult to share and discourages collaboration.
- It has no automatic change control.
The online documentation tools
The following three online business process documentation tools are similar, with some minor differences. The benefit of all is that they are operated from a web browser.
This is basically an online version of Visio.
Pros: It’s easy to collaborate on editing.
Cons: It offers no connection to work instructions or people.
Slick, user-friendly interface. Team pricing starts at $4.99 per user.
- Slick, user-friendly interface.
- Has limited collaboration options.
Cons: No real-time collaboration options.
Similar to Lucid Chart, with a few key differences. Pricing starts at $5 per month per user.
- Works well on mobile devices.
- Online, not offline file.
- Integrates with online tools such as Gsuite and Confluence.
Cons: It offers no connection to work instructions and people (except if integrated with other tools) – this is a real shortcoming as work instructions are essential in business process documentation tools.
Last, but not least: Gluu!
We don’t like to blow our own trumpet too much, but in a textbook example of humblebrag, we do have to say we’ve created an excellent business process documentation tool – if you care about it being read and executed! Start from $5 per user per month.
Pros: It’s online, is mobile-friendly, has built-in work instructions, connects easily to people and can be collaborated on in real-time. It connects all the moving parts of getting people to use your documentation – the diagram, the work instructions, the questions, the ideas, the reviews, the changes, the tasks, the forms and the calendar.
Cons: It only does simple process mapping with four shapes, so it is not for heavy-duty IT development flows. Lastly, if you only want to draw complex drawings then the other tools are better.
(Then again, who cares more about drawing than people actually understanding and using your process documentation?)
Learn more about business process documentation
There’s a lot more that could be said about process documentation. Process documentation is just one of the moving parts of succeeding with business processes as my friendly boss explains here:
Our Process Success Guide contains a full step-by-step guide to creating your own process improvement plan