MSP Culture: Building a Documentation Culture

BY IT GLUE | September 22, 2016

So you’re on board with documentation. We ♥ documentation, so we know all about that. But even when MSPs understand the value of documentation and want to do it, there are often impediments. For one, your techs have to be fastidious about documenting, and usually they are not. They can give you all sorts of reasons, but it simply comes down to them not being on board with a culture of documentation. When we talk to the customers that enjoy the most success with IT Glue™ and the highest ROIs, they tell us that they have a strong culture of documentation.

So how do you build such a culture? How do you overcome resistance to creating a documentation culture?

What is culture?

Organizational culture is often seen as a nebulous concept — one of those things where you know it when you see it — otherwise it’s tough to pin down. But that doesn’t mean leadership is powerless to shape it. Culture is something to which all members of the organization contribute, so building a documentation culture inherently means that everybody in your company has to be a believer.

Reinforcing culture

Culture is reinforced by action. Without daily repetition of action the culture cannot change, especially with documentation. So it is not simply enough to talk about a documentation culture, you have to back it up, every day. At first, it may help to schedule times to document. Techs can be allotted a couple of minutes at the end of each ticket to document that ticket, for example. This way, documentation is not viewed as something that gets in the way of doing their work, but is instead viewed as part of their work. The investment in that time will pay for itself many times over in the long run. This is because proper, thorough documentation will over time eliminate waste in the organization.

Create a baseline

One of the biggest issues with many MSPs is that they had such poor documentation practices that it was truly a novel concept to their techs. It can be hard for techs to document when they do not see the reason why, and it can be hard to see the reason why until there is enough documentation that its advantages are obvious. So, to build a baseline level of documentation, one MSP we know of set aside an entire day for documentation and paid everybody to come in to do nothing else, thus building a starting point from which to work.

Lead by example

All culture change must be supported from the top. If the techs do not sense that management views documentation as a priority, they are unlikely to do it. Management cannot simply talk about documentation, either. They need to actually document their jobs and lead by example. Further, they need to put the systems in place to enforce documentation. In the end you don’t want to have to punish anybody for not documenting. However, it is important to make crystal clear that documentation is not optional, and that there will not be a place for anybody in the organization who is not committed to documentation.

Use rewards

While having a stick may well be necessary, carrots have proven to work wonders. One MSP gives cash awards to its techs for every customer they documented, with the award dependent on the size of the customer. Gamification is another means by which a documentation culture can be created. Games — with prizes — can be an effective way of creating motivation to document during the earliest stages of creating a documentation culture. The idea is that this motivation will allow the organization to build out best practices for documentation and to create a baseline level of documentation within the organization. That baseline will, in turn, showcase the benefits of documentation to everyone in the company, which will only further to improve the culture around documentation.

Documentation zen

The process of creating a documentation culture might be fairly smooth, or it might hit some premature plateaus and require kickstarting. Either way, the ultimate objective is that all the carrots and sticks used to help create the culture are removed. At this point, everybody within the organization is documenting, and holding each other accountable for following best practices in relation to documenting. When it becomes part of the culture, you will not need to explain it to anybody — they will see it for themselves. Then you will have achieved documentation zen.

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