We’ve all been there: we’re so busy creating something, it feels like we don’t have time to take notes on what we’re doing. But at some point, especially when collaborating with others, the need will arise to ensure everyone’s on the same page. The following tips will help your team stay on track with minimal time required.
Here are three crucial documents that you can create quickly, then maintain as you go:
1. Style Guide and Glossary.
Terminology matters. It’s what the press will pick up from your marketing presentations, it’s what your customers will use in social media and most importantly, it’s what you’ll rely on when talking to your colleagues. Ad hoc terminology is an invitation to wasted time and mutual frustration. Start as you mean to go on, and pick simple, accurate terms for things as soon as they’re created.
At the beginning of any project, take a few moments to create a dedicated style guide and glossary — or if your company is still small, with only one or two products, just create one master style guide. A Google Doc works well for this purpose, or add a new page to your internal wiki and highlight it on your main Wiki homepage. Then check every future blog post, press release or help manual against this style guide.
Be sure to include:
- The preferred term and format (“‘Our Glorious Widget,’ always capitalize all words”)
- A simple description of the item in question (“this is the new product launching in July”)
- A few likely alternatives to avoid (“legal says don’t use ‘Gadget’ for copyright reasons”)
- Date that item was last updated, and by whom (“December 26th, per VP Marketing”)
A cross-team style guide is crucial to ensuring that your legal team can easily clear all planned terminology, everyone on the marketing and product teams are on the same page and the support team agrees that the target market will find the chosen terms both intuitive and helpful. Don’t find yourself grinding your teeth when a press release goes out with old terminology or when your customers cling to an inaccurate definition they picked up in a social media post.
2. Release Notes.
Every public release of a software update needs release notes. Get in the habit from the very beginning and you won’t ever have to re-construct your product history later. Regardless of your target market, the ability to know which features were added when can be enormously helpful to your customers, your support staff and your sales team. Each of these groups may later need to pinpoint when a new release introduced unexpected bugs, old platforms stopped being supported or when pricing models changed.
And remember, there’s no shame in limiting your point-release comments to something simple and vague, such as “minor bug fixes and improvements,” when nothing of significance to the average customer is going out. But respect your customers enough to call out that something changed and when.
3. Process Flow.
No matter how small a procedure or event flow might be, have someone document it then send it around. The time to find out that Step B is actually going to take two weeks, not one week, or that a vendor doesn’t do 48-hour turnarounds, is before an emergency happens, not in the middle of a crisis.
A good process plan doesn’t always have to be a fancy flowchart either. A couple minutes spent banging something out in text can work just as well. For instance:
A. Assign the project lead to create a flow document.
1. Project lead creates a draft.
2. All stakeholders review document and sign off on the planned flow.
i. If a stakeholder doesn’t respond, follow up.
ii. If still no response, notify that planned flow will be executed as-is.
B. Project lead notifies all relevant teams of the new flow.
C. Green light new flow.
There are many other documents that can be helpful to keep you on track with your business plan, but these three documents will give you an especially high ROI on time spent, and all of them can begin with an investment of just a few minutes’ time.