WHETHER YOU CALL IT documentation, standard operating procedure notes, or How To Do X, written guidelines that direct employees on proper processes are the mark of an MSP on the way up. "Good documentation is the foundation of success, increased productivity, and profitability," declares Adam Bielanski, former MSP and CEO of the Sierra Pacific Group, a managed services and IT consultancy.
Yet Todd Kane, president of Evolved Management Consulting, says many MSPs he works with are lacking in this area. "Eighty percent may have something they call a documentation system, but it's unstructured, noisy, and not used much, except maybe for passwords,” he says. “Maybe only 20% have good documentation practices."
If your business falls into that category, consider the following best practices for maintaining complete and useful documentation.
Why Do It?
Creating solid, well-maintained documentation is the only way to scale an MSP business, because it reduces the number of hats the owner must wear. And if you're interested in one day selling or merging your MSP company, the better your documentation is, the easier the process.
"A good documentation platform reduces the use of tribal knowledge in your organization," says Kane. "Project documents lower your cost of labor for the same amount of work, reduce complexity, and increase productivity."
It’s also the easiest way to hold people accountable. If your core values and/or processes are written down, it’s clear when they are violated, adds Allen Edwards, founder and president of Eureka Process, an MSP coaching and consulting company.
Edwards calls documentation a "recording of decisions made" on processes to follow in every part of an MSP's business, including time tracking, client tickets, onboarding, and more. For MSPs looking to get to the next level, and for each step up thereafter, the first hurdles are process and documentation. A well-defined process must be documented to create a consistently positive result.
The idea of defining and documenting every process is akin to eating better and exercising more—everyone knows they should do it, but life often gets in the way. For channel pros, days are hectic and full already. Does documentation really make a difference?
It does for Craig Pollack, founder and CEO of FPA Technology Services in the greater Los Angeles area, now in its 31st year. His boutique MSP focuses on long-term relationships by doing more things for fewer clients, and his staff of 22 supports 65 or so clients. "Documentation is so big for us, it's one of our core values," he says.
FPA documents anything and everything, from presales conversations through every user and network device. "Clients have said they hired us because they knew we had lots of documentation, so if their account manager left, it would be only a blip to them," and not an exercise in reeducation, says Pollack. "New engineers praise our docs and pick up our processes quickly."
When creating documentation, try to hit the sweet spot between too little and so much that employees won't read it, Bielanski advises. "Focus on the action that needs to happen, and why the process is important." Drill down to specifics where necessary for techs, he adds, but not for managers and executives who don't need that level of detail.
For Edwards, less is more, but you must know your audience and what they're doing. If your techs have been trained on a tool, the docs don't require step-by-step instructions with screenshots. "Firewalls, for instance, need 10 to 20 serious details out of the thousands available," he notes. Provide information that's necessary and sufficient, he adds, and edit each document until you get that result.
Bielanski prefers documentation that includes written and video instructions where possible. "Some people are readers, some prefer videos." He also recommends revising documentation when needed.