Document Your Process to Teach and Learn a New Task Well

“Give a Shit” has always been my favorite Atomic value, but “Teach and Learn” is a big part of my everyday work life, too. As the newest member of Atomic’s marketing team, I’ve learned a lot over the past year (and taught a little, too).

One thing that’s helped me onboard quickly to new tasks is our team’s emphasis on documentation and a defined way to pass along process. In this post, I’ll give you some tips on writing documentation and what learning new tasks looks like on our team.

Teach and Learn: Writing Documentation

Before we pass a task along to someone else, the process for completing it is documented. Precise documentation allows us to have consistent outcomes and share the workload when needed.

Good documentation doesn’t have to be fancy. It involves putting yourself in a beginner’s mindset and paying attention to detail.

Here are some tips I’ve picked up about writing good documentation: 

  • Keep an accurate “date updated” at the very top of the post, or even in the title.
  • Assume your reader is intelligent but not omniscient.
  • Start with the “why.” Beginning your documentation with a one or two summary of the purpose of the task can help the learner make good decisions when judgement calls are needed.
  • Do the task as you write. Don’t give into the temptation of writing from memory! Inevitably, there are steps that have become so routine you don’t even realize you’re doing them.
  • Use headings and numbered or bulleted lists.
  • Be concise.
  • Add relevant details in logical sequence.

Teach and Learn: Onboarding a Colleague

On the marketing team, I’ve found our routine for teaching someone a new task invaluable. It involves three stages:

  1. Overview/Demonstration
  2. Learner does the task with the teacher available for assistance
  3. Learner flies solo (with documentation for reference)

Here’s how to replicate our process:

  • Write the documentation (see above).
  • Share the documentation for reference with whomever you’re training.
  • Set two meetings. The initial meeting should be long enough to demonstrate the task at least once. If it’s a long, complicated task, consider adding breaks. It takes a lot of brainpower to absorb complex new information! Allot a few minutes for questions. The second meeting should leave enough time for the learner to do the task themself with the help of the documentation. Leave enough time for hiccups and questions.

The First Meeting

  • During the first meeting, run through the task at a moderate pace while the person you’re teaching observes. Contextualize what you’re doing by recapping the purpose of the task. I’ve found it helpful to answer questions as they come up.
  • Update the documentation after the meeting with any relevant items that came up during the meeting.

The Second Meeting

  • During the second meeting, let the learner do the task while you observe and answer questions.
  • As a learner, I’ve found it helpful to reference the documentation as I go. Memorization isn’t usually necessary!
  • Let the learner “drive” the meeting. That allows any questions or holes in the documentation to be addressed on the spot. It also gives the learner confidence to do the task while still having the “safety net” of a more experienced colleague on hand.
  • Repeat the task a few times if needed.

Fly Solo!

The learner is now ready to fly solo! If the documentation is good and steps one and two are thorough, the learner should now be ready to go it alone (along with their handy documentation, of course). I hope that, by following the steps above, you can teach and learn effectively! It’s made all the difference for me.