How Hard Would It Be To Document Your Job?

How Hard Would It Be To Document Your Job?
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Efficient management relies on well-understood and well-documented processes, but the reality in many workplaces is that crucial tasks are often only fully understood by a single employee. If you were to quit your job tomorrow, how many processes would have to be documented so that someone else could take over your role?

Office picture from Shutterstock

I started musing on this issue after a comment from Lifehacker reader pprime on one of our killer interview questions posts last week. For many bosses, pprime suggested, the likely response if a key employee announced they were leaving would be this:

Thanks for all your hard work; can you document all that tricky stuff you do so we can replace you?

Harsh but accurate, I suspect. Sometimes we don’t document processes because we want to feel indispensable; sometimes it’s simply because there aren’t enough hours in the day.

How much of what you do at work isn’t properly documented and would disappear if you left? Tell us in the comments.


  • There would be no impact. I just tell people ‘No!’ and point them to pages on our website that back me up. Government work, gotta love it.

  • I suspect I’m in the minority here, but I’m a little obsessed with proper handover notes. I have been continually thrown in the deep end by predecessors who didn’t write down what they did, and I never want to do that to someone else.

    I run a number of recurring projects, and each of those projects not only have comprehensive project plans but also yearly ‘things that you should fix next time’ notes. I’m also writing my handover notes as I go. My current draft (which doesn’t include the aforementioned project plans) is about 32 pages and 12,000 words long. So yeah, my successor is going to have a LOT of reading to do, but at least they’ll know what they’re doing.

  • Part of my job is to document business processes for clients, identify areas for improvement (mainly using tech/newer tools).

    Too often I am called in when it is last minute, scenario being “Fred is leaving on Friday shadow him and document his work so we can give it to other staff”…. Needless to say it is always a fun task in those situations.

    Could you document what I do? Yes, but intuition on what questions to ask, that is why you hire people with relevant experience so you don’t have to idiot proof your whole business with documentation.

  • I document for future me, it it’s caught me out once it can do it again. If something has caught me it gets a note somewhere with enough detail to overcome it or at least a few references to other notes I should be looking at.

    In the case of someone else reading my documentation I hope they’re good at making connections between things and lightly reverse engineering a problem, I don’t document for idiots.

    I’ll also second the ‘fix this next time’ notes though sometimes you’ll look back and wonder why you didn’t do that then and there.

  • Me personally? Not so much. My unit? Very hard to document. We have our own internal stuff for process instructions, but it’s predicated on having a base understanding of very complicated, highly-variable, industry-specific technology.

    And the really weird thing is that you can usually only get that knowledge by serving with the major service providers and the specialists they interact with, getting training from them on their proprietary tech. You can’t bring in someone entry-level and train them up in anywhere under six months.

    Most of our people are ex-provider, just because you can’t GET TAFE-style training or a degree for what we do.

    Every time we get a new Director, management makes an earnest attempt to understand our tasks to set KPIs and score some ‘process efficiency’ goals, and every time nothing comes of it… because after sending people down for a few weeks to observe our processes, they still walk away not having a damn clue how we do what we do, let alone how to streamline it. And we try to be as helpful as possible, but it’s just so variable and situational that any flowchart for process instruction would take a book. But everything else they do can fit on an A4 page, and they don’t know how to deal with that.

    It’s almost as if we’re not a Finance group, but that’s not possible because some Important Idiot somewhere decided that we fall under Finance instead of Operations because part of our role involves paying some bills. And Important People can’t possibly make org structure mistakes of that magnitude! I swear it’s like watching a robot reset after a paradox failure. Our unit lives in the ‘too hard basket’.

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