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The Importance of Documentation in the Consulting Process

June 14, 2018

If you’re hiring a consulting firm to assist your company with a project or ongoing work, one thing you may not think about is documentation.

This is literally the paperwork that they’ll create while they’re there and leave behind. But the level and quality of a consulting firm’s documentation can have a huge impact on whether you sink or swim once they’ve left the building. The first question to answer is:

Why is documentation important?

Let’s take a closer look at why something that can seem at first glance to be so tedious and boring is actually a vital and valuable part of the process.

Documentation captures the final results of your back-and-forth

Anytime you work with a consulting firm, there are hundreds of decisions that are made (if not more) during your engagement that lead to your final outcomes. Your documentation captures all of those decisions and keeps them in one safe place so that when (not if) someone has a question about a particular aspect of the configuration, the answer is readily available.

Documentation keeps you from being held hostage

A good consulting firm does a great job of blending in with the rest of the team, making you feel like you can call on them just like you can turn to one of your own employees if you have a question or need something taken care of. But what happens when their contract ends and the contractor who was at your beck and call is no longer on your retainer?

In my opinion, if you worked with a “good” contractor, you’d know the answer to that question before the end of your project. A responsible contractor who puts an emphasis on good documentation will provide you with all of the info you need to run your martech operations in an easy-to-understand format, and will take the time to go through it with you prior to the project close. They won’t simply walk away from the project with all of the information in their heads and in scribbled notes that are in their files; they’ll insure a seamless knowledge transfer occurs so that your marketing operations doesn’t come to a standstill while you await a key piece of information.

Documentation trains new team members

Solid documentation makes training and onboarding tasks much easier, by giving new hires an easy way to begin understanding your business and marketing operations and processes. Though you may not want to hand a technical design document directly to a new employee as a training manual, it’s a great resource on which to base your training materials.

Your consulting documentation is a starting point for your business documentation

Over the years, we’ve found that many clients didn’t have clear documentation of their martech systems or marketing operations before we came on board, and that’s not surprising — often when businesses are growing quickly and working as fast as they can to keep up with customer and market demand, documenting processes isn’t a thought. If it is, it’s one of the first things to get pushed to the back burner.

But when your consulting firm does provide you with martech/marketing operations documentation, make sure you see it for the opportunity it is — the chance to start capturing your martech systems, processes, and procedures in one place.

Think of that business process management documentation not as something that you put on the shelf once it’s done, but as a living document that will evolve as your company evolves. By seeing it as an ever-evolving piece, you’ll continue to get benefit from your agency investment. It’s there to help you evaluate and ultimately improve your own processes, so if you choose not to keep it up-to-date, you’re leaving money on the table.

The major downside of going without documentation: The "Frankensystem"

So we know that there are benefits to having your agency provide you with documentation. But what if the consulting firm simply comes in, configures your system and walks away? What’s the worst that could happen? It’s actually pretty bad: the "Frankensystem."

If you’ve never dealt with a Frankensystem before, here’s what it’s like. A Frankensystem tends to work beautifully at first, but no one but the original creator — in this case, the consultant at the agency — knows how it is configured. Unfortunately, when that person leaves the agency to move to Tahiti, the next person who wants to make tweaks to your marketing automation setup has to guess at how things are set up, then adjust.

Future tweaks mean more guesses on top of more adjustments, with no one having a clear understanding of what was originally built, until at some point it is decided to toss the entire Frankensystem and build a new one from scratch.

Making smart documentation decisions

The best way to avoid a Frankensystem — and to get the most out of an engagement with your consulting firm — is to insist on thorough documentation on all systems and configurations throughout the process. By doing so, you’ll not only have a record of all of the final decisions you made, but you’ll be able to work autonomously once your contract ends.

Training new employees will be easier with solid documentation in hand, and you can use it as the foundation for documenting other business platforms and processes across your organization. By making smarter documentation decisions with your consulting firm, you can look forward to getting even more value out of your consulting investment.

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