Creating a Documentation System in Notion

Introduction

Recently our team decided that we wanted to rethink our internal company documentation to make it easier for current and future employees to understand our organization and see department specific information. To reorganize our documentation, we wanted to create a blend of an informal employee handbook and internal “wiki” that outlines company policies and procedures while providing department specific instructions and information for various projects and tasks. By creating this new system our aim was to make internal company information accessible to everyone within the organization.

Being a cutting-edge software development agency, we decided that we wanted to try a new approach to putting together our documentation vs. traditional methods and so we selected to leverage Notion for our new system. Most organizations create documentation systems as a PDF or in a legacy document management system. Notion provides a different approach as a platform that helps connect organizational teams, projects, and documents into a visually appealing and simple user interface. We felt this product would best fit our needs and were impressed that it has been adopted by organizations such as Spotify and Figma for internal documentation purposes.

Defining The need for a company handbook 

So to start, let’s take a step back, why do organizations create handbooks of information for their employees? According to the Society for Resource Management (SHRM), a leader in workspace research,   “An employee handbook can be a valuable communication resource for both the employer and the employee. It provides guidance and information related to the organization’s history, mission, values, policies, procedures and benefits in a written format. It is also viewed as a means of protecting the employer against discrimination or unfair treatment claims. It is an easily accessible guide to the company’s policies and practices as well as an overview of the expectations of management. In contrast, a policy is a written statement that reflects the employer’s standards and objectives relating to various employee activities and employment-related matters.”

The Importance of an Internal Documentation System

In addition to basic policies and procedures, handbooks can provide a single place where all of a company’s employees can access the information they need in order to do their jobs. As employees have questions about project management, templated department processes, or other basic information, a handbook can be a sole source of consistent and up to date information.  By creating this internal system, our organization has been able to reduce miscommunication, be more consistent, and get new employees up to speed more quickly while helping our team abide by basic company standards.

So what information is most important to include?

It depends! Every organization is different. For our organization, our core departments are business development, admin/operations, project management, and software development/engineering. In addition to these departments, we wanted to create a general section (company home) to outline documentation that applies to all members of the organization. Below you can see a screenshot of how we decided to break down the high-level structure of our system. 

Who should be in charge of organizing documentation?

To put together our comprehensive Notion documentation, we assigned individual employees to be responsible for high level folders. For example, our lead developer put together a hierarchy of engineering documentation but then assigned specific sub-folder document creation to other members of our team. This ensures that we establish directly responsible individuals for each documentation category while also leveraging the skillsets and expertise of each employee to complete specific documentation items. 

Within this engineering example below you can see that the summary page is organized to provide key links to sub folders and pieces of documentation. By creating this highly visual and link based structure, it is easy for individual members in the engineering department to find what they are looking for quickly. We mimicked this approach for all of the departments within Lithios.

How should information be organized?

This is where Notion truly shines as a visual page builder. Notion has created a catalog of various templates and examples for its partner companies to use. For each subpage in Notion you can either build a custom page laid out in a format of your choosing or build from a template created by Notion or copied from one of its customers. Being able to see how other organizations organize their internal documentation and share information to employees is an added benefit to this system.  Every organization should utilize a different combination of templates and pages depending on their documentation specific needs.

In the example below you can see how Buffer uses Notion to track high-level OKRs for its employees. Buffer uses Notion in this example to assign key employees to trackable key results, establish and outline objectives for completion, create clear objectives, and provide other OKR specific information.

In another example below, you can see one other templated example of how this can be used to track and maintain all information regarding open positions within an organization.

These examples are just a few ways you can leverage this system to create a more comprehensive internal documentation structure. There are thousands of various templates and pages you can leverage to customize this system to your unique needs.

When to use Notion vs. another tool?

Some organizations may find that Notion templates and pages may be too lightweight for some of their specific needs. Notion integrates with a variety of different tools like Slack, Google Drive, and Gmail  but in some cases it cannot completely replace the benefits of a more complex system. Using the job board example above, Notion can be utilized to track open positions, job description links, and other hiring documentation but will not replace another more comprehensive applicant tracking system (ATS) or hiring tool. You may find that a more complex ATS system will have more features and functionalities to source, screen, and ultimately hire candidates in comparison to a streamlined Notion system.

Prior to using the tools and templates within Notion, it is important for an organization to identify which problems Notion can solve with documentation and tooling vs. which problems would be better solved with another tool or process.

Conclusion

Notion is a powerful tool that can be used to create visually accessible and streamlined department documentation. It won’t replace every tool that your organization uses but it can serve as a powerful place for company wide communication and collaboration.

Kyle Linton is the VP of Operations at Lithios. He focuses on reducing blockers and creating repeatable processes for the internal teams. In his free time he partakes in interpretive dance.

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