Internal Documentation for Remote Startups

Internal Documentation for Remote Startups

Internal Documentation for Remote Startups

Published on May 4, 2021, by Jan Kuzel

In a fully remote team, internal documentation suddenly goes from a nice-to-have to an absolutely necessary component connecting everyone in the team and holding the company together.

In summary, internal documentation is good for:

  • employee onboarding
  • clarity about what is everyone doing
  • single place for all creative high-level strategy, analysis, etc.

The world today has a lot to offer, but there is a huge information overload and the way to get on top is to figure out what you should be doing, see something before others do, and act on it. If magically you knew just exactly what to do, you could make the perfect simple app the world needs today, produce it in a week, and one month later be a millionare. The way you work with information and how you make decisions is therefore of critical importance.

"We live in an age of infinite leverage... and because of that, the impacts of good decision-making are much higher than they used to" ~ Naval Ravikant

Founders and managers are often struck with a particular challenge though - how to hit the right balance of amount and quality of documentation.

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Find the balance

Do too little, and you will be having issues and slower growth down the line, as you will hire new people, transfer responsibilities, and try to get them up to speed with everything you know about your product.

You will realize that transferring what you know from your head to theirs is not that easy and that many things you consider obvious, they will have no idea of. Not to mention that this problem is not exclusive to transferring awareness and instructions to new hires, but also between the founding team, even if it's only 2 people working remotely. Lastly, even for yourself, it's extremely hard holding hundreds of pages of information in your head at all times.

Internal wiki can become your secret weapon, for yourself, for your co-founders, and for any new hires.

Do too much and you will be spending half of your day tweaking emojis and colors for something you plan to do a year from now and that you will ditch week later - ie. massively wasting your time.

The challenge is real because naturally, people have an inner level of relationship with being tidy and thinking of long-term vs short-term gains. Some people first jump and analyze later. Others measure three times and only then cut.

In an ideal case, your co-founding team has both of these personalities represented and they can then both do what they are best at. Unfortunately from what I observed, usually the whole companies are either this or that. Some teams are overly OCD, perfectionist and careful and benefit from the super clean product, quality customer service, but slower growth. Other teams are all about the hustle, but as they grow, things start crumbling and huge amounts of money are being wasted on internal inefficiencies.

Tools

There are a gazillion tools for documentation, and I will make it dirt simple and just mention what I use daily. I am sure that if you want more you can just google it, and well, everyone knows Trello and Google Docs already anyway.

Notion

The bread and butter of both our company's documentation and documentation for my personal life. Notion showed up out of nowhere and very quickly won the hearts of many. Notion is your typical rich document system with a sidebar containing nesting pages. The nesting concept is known to me first time from Workflowy, but that was more of a bullet point tool. If you want an alternative to Notion, you can grab Dropbox Paper or Salesforce-owned Quip, they are similar but not as powerful in features. Notion also steals part of the functionality from excel sheets, or maybe Airtable.

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Whimsical

My go-to whiteboarding tool, originally I used Miro, but once I discovered Whimsical I fell deeply in love with its simplicity. In a sense, Whimsical can do fewer things, there is more locking and fewer design options .. for me that's great as that keeps my perfectionism from running too wild. It's a faster and prettier tool for organizing complex ideas visually.

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Examples

If your company is single-minded, then you have two choices, hire someone to tame all the mess .. or learn to balance and perhaps start with some 3rd party examples to start quickly.

Company Home

Every wiki needs a home. This is an ideal place to make clear what your company strives to achieve and what are your values. Company-wide goals are also a good component here.

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Tools Stack

Invaluable document to keep track of active subscriptions, to know all the tools available in the company and to know who the admins are of each tool.

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Company Sprints

When you have a regular calls, you assign tasks and this board helps everyone track what is going on and what their personal priorities for the week are.

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Meeting Notes

To make sure that nothing gets lost, all meetings can be neatly documented in one place.

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Jan Kuzel