A project’s “bus factor” refers to the minimum number of team members who, in their absence, would cause significant delays or even failure of a project. In other words, how many people need to get hit by a bus for your project to be put at risk? 😬
The bus factor notion is an important one. It highlights the need for organizational redundancy and robust internal documentation so businesses can continue operating in a person’s or team’s absence.
Documentation has already made a significant impact on modern business operations—from new employee onboarding to out-of-office checklists to software development standards to data breach response protocols. And while documentation is especially prevalent on certain teams (Engineering and People Operations), it’s noticeably less so on others (Marketing). It’s time for that to change.
Why internal documentation matters for marketers
Documentation refers to the various records your team keeps to help inform its decisions and processes. For marketers, this includes creative briefs, design files, boilerplates, roadmaps, copy docs, cohort analyses, ad set testing, and more.
Here are four reasons why a culture of documentation is critical to building a sustainable marketing team:
- Documentation helps with quality control
It’s important to maintain alignment on brand narrative and messaging when communicating with customers. While this sounds simple in theory, alignment can be a uniquely challenging endeavor for startups and other fast-paced environments where brand guidelines and product direction change constantly, as well as for established brands that have exponentially more channels and content volume.
Internal documentation helps mitigate this risk. By operating from a shared source of truth (like Plot), teams can be certain that they are pulling from the same and most up-to-date information. Aside from general process documentation, this might also include an internal knowledge base that customer-facing roles can utilize during sales or customer support interactions.
- Documentation improves team efficiency, communication, and collaboration
Documentation empowers individuals to move freely and deliberately in their work. When teammates share the same level of information access as their peers, they’re given all the tools and preexisting insights they need to do their job effectively.
Good documentation also improves collaboration—especially on distributed teams that put a premium on asynchronous work. It helps everyone stay organized and know exactly where to find what they need, when they need it. Documentation saves time and energy and it prevents duplicative or unnecessary work through the use of shared knowledge, templates, and insights.
- Documentation helps teams iterate and improve on creative quickly
The most successful marketing teams maintain a detailed repository of all their content and performance metrics and provide team-wide access to this information. In doing so, individuals can quickly reference past creative and messaging and leverage it when planning new activations. By making data more available, individuals spend less time wrangling information and more time acting on it.
- Documentation fosters a culture of learning and development
“Rockstars” can be dangerous. All too often, especially at startups, a single person holds the full institutional knowledge of a system, process, or feature. This is the bus factor phenomenon rearing its head again. Aside from the larger issue of single points of failure, there’s a more subtle and insidious truth: as the organization grows, that person suddenly becomes the all-knowing arbiter of truth, and a necessary go-between for teammates to access important (and often job-critical) information. This disempowers other members on the team who now feel a lack of autonomy, and may result in the “rockstar” focusing less on shipping features or doing more impactful work.
A culture of documentation empowers employees to find information on their own without bottlenecks and unnecessary back-and-forth. This helps teams stay agile and focus their conversations on topics that are better suited to synchronous communication, like brainstorming, discussion, and Q&A.
Additionally, when managers and other leaders make their work available via documentation, they offer an important education moment to early-career employees. By sharing briefs, SOWs, planning documents, and post-mortems, junior teammates learn about process and best practices through osmosis and may feel more supported in their own work.
How to get started with documentation
Starting anything from scratch can feel daunting, and documentation is no exception. To overcome the mental barrier of staring at a blank document, try making a commitment to starting small: create an outline, prioritize topics, and gradually build out your content repository over time.
Whether you’re starting from zero or already have a system in place, here are a few tips to help your team stay aligned:
1. Decide what should be documented
The first step to creating alignment is deciding what should be documented. This ranges from templates that are utilized daily to informational archives that are only referenced on occasion. Some examples to consider:
- Job descriptions
- Brand guidelines
- Templates (e.g. creative brief, project summary, partnership deck, growth experiment framework)
- Assets and collateral
- Customer feedback
- Customer research
- Reporting and analytics
- Timeline of key business events (e.g. new product launch, price change, channel expansion, partnership, brand campaign)
- OKRs, KPIs, or other company-wide metrics and goals
2. Build your tech stack
Maintaining documentation has never been easier. Whether you’re a startup, B2B company, D2C brand, nonprofit, or agency, there are a multitude of softwares on the market that can meet your business needs. Remember to choose a tool that can be accessed by anyone, anytime, anywhere. A well organized Google Drive is a smart, department-agnostic option for most teams. Wikis like Almanac and Notion let you curate documents for FAQs, knowledge bases, and playbooks.
At Plot, we’re building the central operating system that caters specifically to marketing teams. Plot helps you plan, calendar, collaborate on, produce, and track content, creative, and performance across your entire marketing mix. As projects come to fruition, you can easily generate and share interactive, visual documentation with anyone in your organization who needs to access it.
3. Establish the process
Lastly, every good project needs a process for implementation and measurement. When building a culture of documentation, be sure to plan for the following:
- Who can contribute
- Types of mandatory documentation (from step 1)
- How to create and publish new documents
- How to request approvals
- File naming conventions
- Maintenance and regular updates
Ready to join us in building a culture of documentation?