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The documentation of work processes: the essential repository


Writing will have marked the passage from prehistory to history. Man, in the generic sense of the term, offered himself, around the year 3300 B.C., a tool, a technology based on the same structures as language, so as to make possible, by disregarding the temporal dimension, the transmission of information. To be functional, this technology obviously had to be based on a support, an information support. The first information support was a tablet... of clay, stone... Practicing clay... it is possible to format it (soften it) to reuse it...

But the most extraordinary thing about writing is that it makes it possible to leave behind the oral culture (oral transmission of information) which, with each transmission, almost always leads to a modification of content. Thus, writing brings this idea not only of durability, but also of inalterability.  

Writing thus brings a certain dimension of reliability. Then, from writing as a technology that makes it possible to recall (reliably, faithfully) past facts or to put them into the present through repetition, we have come to the repetition of writing itself, with the possibility of duplicating the information support or making the information travel on its own (printing, fax, networking, etc.). 

Paradoxically, 5300 years later, many people have these extraordinary and indispensable tools at their disposal, which they use too little, if at all.


About why

In the plethora of different business environments around the world, there is a common dynamic: offering goods or services in exchange (for compensation, remuneration) or for the benefit of a third party. On closer examination, for each specific variant of the offer (of goods or services), there is an equally specific organisational or corporate mission. Whether the mission is charitable, for-profit, private or public interest, the mission is in all cases the why that drives the stakeholders. On the basis of this why, a strategic planning (vision) is anchored which introduces the notion of means.


About how

With the notion of means comes the how which is in any case subject to the why.


A simple example: ACME :

  • ACME's mission is to provide garment manufacturers with advanced systems to make life easier for the consumer who puts on or takes off their clothes.
  • ACME's vision is to make these systems reusable, adaptable, attractive and with a life span equivalent to that of the garment.
  • As a result, ACME has created a wide selection of products: zippers, two- and four-hole buttons, etc. 

ACME employs hundreds of people who are responsible for the production of its products. The production chain is highly efficient; the supply chain is scrutinized and optimized on a continuous basis.

The resources in place work hard and are proud of their contribution. The resources in place work hard and are proud of their contribution. The sense of belonging is strong, turnover is low, absenteeism is low, the work climate is good, employees are experienced and dedicated. The situation seems ideal, but involves significant risks.

There is so much cooperation between individuals that all you have to do is ask a colleague in the most experienced group to adjust the machinery to make four holes in the button instead of just two. Or ask some of them to provide training for a specific task. They know, they've been around forever and they're reliable.


Consistency and coherence leave the boat

Then, one day, production increases, the number of resources increases. The transfer of knowledge now takes place in parallel. X offers the training to group A; Y offers the training to group B. Knowledge passes vertically from one individual to another. Initially, there was little or no difference in the end products. Some time later, the products are no longer the same.


And our specialist, who in no time at all was adjusting the machinery to go from two to four holes, had to leave in a hurry... with all the knowledge in his head and no one to pass on the oral culture of how the tools allow the organization to carry out its mission.





The documentation of work processes never arouses great passions. Often (but more rarely if the legislation obliges the organisation to document - obligation of means, traceability), the best time to start writing down ways of doing things is always tomorrow


Not to mention the effort required for the update.


Towards sustainability

However, the mapping of work processes always represents an extraordinary opportunity to identify opportunities for optimisation. These opportunities will always generate benefits in terms of quality, profit margin, market share...


Then, the formalization of work processes into standardized procedures that will bring consistency in products or services, predictability of results, the possibility of implementing a quality assurance program, consistency in work... a real sustainability and a circumscribed level of operational risk.


Your turn

Is your organizational culture oral or written? What is your level of risk? Are your ways of doing things optimal?



Luc Lachapelle B.A., M.A., M.B.S.I., C.D.I.A., S.S.C., PROSCI

Director, Strategic Consulting Services


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