Few organizations attain the level of organization afforded by defining a shared filing system. More typical is a haphazard collection of “buckets” of shared documents with little or no internal organization. If you’re committed to leveraging documentation to improve organizational effectiveness, however, you’ll want to go further and not only provide easy access to documents through a consistent filing system but also layer an index on top of that system to provide context for and guide stakeholders to the documentation you’ve created so they don’t have to browse or search or ask around to find relevant documentation. This article describes four options for organizing such a table of contents.

Annotated Index

Perhaps the simplest documentation guide is a table of contents, stored at the top level of the shared filing system which it indexes, containing hyperlinks to the other documents that you want to highlight for a particular group of stakeholders. Such an index could take the form of a spreadsheet or a table in a rich text document containing a series of document titles as hyperlinks, preferably accompanied by a brief description of the document’s content and relevance.

Example: Initech Internal Documentation

DocumentDescription
Filing a TPS ReportStep-by-step instructions for filling out a TPS report
TPS Report Cover Memo SpecificationsSample cover sheet for TPS report
Stapler Requisition ProcessApproval process for ordering Swingline staplers
Troubleshooting “PC Load Letter”How to fix the paper cartridge message on an HP LaserJet

Perspectival Planner

Adding additional structure to a basic annotated index makes it more useful and faster to navigate. One approach is to group documentation links and descriptions according to their relevance to the different perspectives from which one may view an organization, such as:

  • People: Position descriptions & related human resources documentation.
  • Policy: Organizational values, principles, policies, rules, and controls constraining the operation of the organization.
  • Process: Procedures grouped by organizational process areas.
  • System: Setup & configuration documentation for systems supporting organizational processes.
  • Schedule: Planning calendar/tickler system identifying time-based triggers for executing documented procedures

Example: Dilbertesque Departmental Documentation

People

DocumentDescription
Chief Inspiration OfficerPosition description for executive cheerleader.
Brand WarriorPosition description for aggressive marketing maven.

(Group position descriptions into divisions and departments as appropriate.)

Policy

DocumentDescription
Flair StandardsManager checklist for wait staff dress code compliance
Policy PolicyOur self-documenting policy on writing policies.

(Group policies into organizational units and topics as appropriate.)

Process

DocumentDescription
Planning to planMeta-process description for planning your planning.
Alphabetizing purchase ordersA-Z guide to put order into POs

(Group procedures into process areas as appropriate.)

System

DocumentDescription
LaserJet 2750pPrinter setup & configuration documentation
HON H3000Office workstation assembly instructions

(Group systems by organizational unit or type as appropriate.)

Schedule

DocumentDescriptionRecurrence Pattern
Casual Friday enforcement protocolHR checklist for employee dress code complianceWeekly on Friday
Company PicnicSetup instructions for annual potluckAnnually, on 3rd Friday in June

(Group triggers into recurrence patterns as appropriate.)

Workflow Matrix

A more sophisticated presentation of these organizational perspectives may be obtained by creating an integrated workflow responsibility matrix, which shows the interrelationships among people, policies, processes, systems, and schedules. A spreadsheet works best for such a matrix, as it allows the user to shift perspective and find relevant documentation quickly by sorting and filtering according to his or her present interest.

RoleProcedureTriggerPos. APos. BPos. CSupporting System(s)
Software Engineering QualityPrepare TPS reportWeekly, on M & WRASAP-Y ERP
Purchasing AdministrationAlphabetize Purchase OrdersPO received by PurchasingR

A further advantage of this integrated approach is that when complete, it can facilitate the automatic generation and update of detailed position descriptions.

Strategic Operating Document

Each of the preceding examples added value to your documentation efforts both by making the documentation itself easier to find and also by giving it greater context so that its meaning in relation to other organizational priorities is clear to your coworkers. Another compelling and direct way to add such context and meaning is to use the table of contents as a way to reinforce your organizational mission and core principles so that employees understand the “why” not just the “what” and “how” of your business. This understanding reinforces the link between executing the “what” of everyday work (and doing so well according to the “how” of your procedures) as a fulfillment of the “why” of your mission.

Based on Sam Carpenter’s ideas in the book Work the System, serial entrepreneurs Dan Andrews and Ian Schoen have worked out a practical implementation way to link “what”, “why”, and “how” that they call a Strategic Operating Document, consisting of four sections:

  • Projects: A list of current active projects.
  • Procedures: Links to operational procedures (equivalent to the “Process” contents previously described).
  • Principles: A concise list of maxims to be invoked when making decisions in areas not covered by established procedures.
  • Mission: A statement of the organization’s core purpose and values.

Regardless of how simple or sophisticated you make it, providing some sort of index as easy entry point to your organizational documentation will help ensure it actually gets read and referenced by those for whom it’s been written.

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