Why Documentation Best Practices is Critical
Strong documentation should be a priority for any business regardless of size. Not only does effective documentation procedures improve a business’s ROI, they also provide an important risk management function. Professionals, in particular, are vulnerable to deficient documentation. Thorough documentation evidences the advice you provide and will help resolve any dispute you may have with your client in the event they allege you committed a wrongful act.
We all know that there is nothing better than a well-documented file to allow you to seamlessly pick up where the engagement was left off. Documentation can be a challenge, but it is not an unrealistic initiative. Through commitment and patience, you can achieve proficient documentation that will ultimately become second nature. The first step: take action today to elevate your risk management, client service levels, and bottom line.
Conduct a self-assessment
Slow down and evaluate each part of your engagement or project. Take the time to outline your process and critically assess where deficiencies exist. Start with a simple self-assessment by asking yourself some of the following questions:
- What current procedures or consistencies do you have in place?
- Where and how do you file or store your documents or notes?
- Has a lack of documentation led to frustrations in your ability to service your client?
- Have you identified potential opportunities that better documentation can benefit you?
- Is any communication or information considered high-risk or in need of documentation?
- Have you received feedback from clients or other business partners?
Regardless, whether you are starting from scratch or building on existing procedures, identify your priorities that will benefit your client service levels and better manage your risk.
Make the commitment
Like a lot of other things, enhancing your documentation procedures requires a commitment. Identify your ideal scenario and start working toward that goal. Equally important, ensure your goals are achievable and it takes time and resource to implement improvements. Recognize that you are applying changes to existing habits, which can be difficult.
Once you have implemented and used your changes, a practical next step is to evaluate the procedures, successes, and failures. If possible, seek feedback from other partners or stakeholders to help your assessment. Some changes may yield immediate benefits, while others take time. Do not be discouraged; every engagement or project is an opportunity to learn.
While the goal is for the changes to become second nature, any risk management initiative is an ongoing commitment. New challenges, requirements or efficiency opportunities will continually present themselves.
An important element of effective documentation is communication. Prioritize the documentation of the communication with your clients. The interactions you have with your clients are a critical component in supporting you in delivering your services and can achieve the following:
- Deliver services according to the scope of your agreement
- Proactively identify any misunderstandings
- Help build and maintain the client relationship
- Provide evidence in the event of a dispute
Talk to your clients frequently. It is an important tool to help elevate your customer service as well as manage your risk.
Reduce your E&O exposure
The biggest business risk a professional is faced with is litigation from your client who suffer a financial loss as a result of your negligence. Unfortunately claims happen all the time and weak documentation practices are a key contributing factor. Not only can you mitigate your own exposure to such risk, in certain cases, with the benefit of hindsight, the loss can be avoided entirely!
A simple claim example outlines this:
The insured contracted with a client to create a software program for the client’s business. The program had a flaw in its design which resulted in an incorrect financial calculation and subsequent overpayment of employee bonuses. The client made a claim against the insured for the financial loss as a result of the overpayment. The insured failed to properly document the communication with the client that led to the confusion around the correct calculation logic.
A claim is a stressful experience that drains your emotional, personal and business resources. The time and effort invested in documentation best practices is well worth it.