Win the Lottery: Documentation as an Effective Program


Documentation is part of our daily life. From American consumers watching YouTube videos to learn how things work, to putting together a new piece of furniture, only to discover that “Part E” definitely does not go where the badly written directions say it should go, documentation is just part of our DNA.

Many well-run organizations have gone a step further to see that documentation is part of an effective succession strategy. As employees advance to new positions, those following in their footsteps need to know how to do the tasks left to them. Organizations benefit when advanced employees share their specialized knowledge with other departments, for example to limit the repeated asking of the same question.

However, how to effectively channel knowledge sharing eludes many businesses. How do you make this activity fun? How do you encourage people to document their knowledge?

My company has discovered a way to make this sort of knowledge sharing enjoyable, even fun to do.

The design and staying power of our succession planning efforts make it a “win”

My CUSO’s program is called “Win the Lottery.” The idea behind that name being that our employees are irreplaceable and them leaving our organization would be a great loss. As a company, we have won the lottery by having you as an employee. Since the start of the program, we have been continually adding to our documentation, with employees from all different departments and specialties contributing.

The program is voluntary and requires just a monthly commitment of a half hour. Because participants are sharing valuable information, many devote more time to the project and set documentation as an annual goal. This might be a strategy that works well in your organization, too.

“This is an effort that has paid off in big dividends for our digital documentation efforts. The more we can get things out of peoples’ heads and written down, so everyone has access to it, the more everybody benefits,” said Dawn Moore, Vice President Writing Team/Product Design.

Include documentation in annual goal planning

Mary VanAntwerp, Vice President of Quality Control, frequently assigns Win the Lottery as a cross team goal for her team.

“Our work in Quality Control gives us a unique position to assist the Writing Team with their documentation efforts and to ensure that specific details about our software make their way into the deeper documentation, VanAntwerp said. “Our objective is to assist both users and frontline support teams to better understand the functionality without the need for additional assistance.”

Win the lottery raises the bar with documentation across the organization

In many cases, participants’ own documentation efforts are improved by participating in Win the Lottery. Succession planning efforts bloomed with one participant documenting their own job processes in a way that help others navigate their specialized work. William Alsover, Operator/Ops Internal Auditor and Record Keeping/Tax Processing Coordinator, wrote two booklets covering the annual procedures related to our CUSO’s tax processing software while in the program.

“I was awakened from my ‘dogmatic slumber’ of bland documentation,” Alsover said. “I learned that just because the information is good and necessary doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be presented with readability, aesthetic principles, and clarity.”

Alsover then transferred this knowledge to other members of the operations department who now submit how-to documentation for the CU*Answers portal page.

Flexibility is key to Win the Lottery’s success

Flexibility is key to the success of the Win the Lottery program. Each participant contributes in a way that fits them, often sharing the very thing that they are asked for over and over. (Again, those frequently asked questions.) Work always comes first, but if the two go hand and hand together, all the better!

“Working with the Win the Lottery gave me an opportunity to add specific information into credit card documentation on card controls,” explained Michelle Gavalya, a programmer at CU*Answers. “Through Win the Lottery, I also created a knowledgebase item about specific debit, ATM, and credit card indicators that resulted in my having to field fewer questions on the subject.”

A commitment to Win the Lottery pays dividends in documentation efforts

Win the Lottery does take a commitment to the belief that everyone can be a member of your documentation team. You also need a core group of people, in our company the Writing Team, to meet with and channel the knowledge into reusable formats. Sometimes that just means recommending ways for the participants to enhance their already excellent work!

Stacy Brower, Technical Writer, agrees that the spirit of Win the Lottery improves CU*Answers documentation.

“It is great to get that extra insight that only the creator or tester of the software has, and Win the Lottery being a half hour commitment a month makes it manageable for us both. Brower said. “I enjoy working with participants to improve their writing and to find the best way to share their information, be it in our knowledgebase, extensive online help, or other resources.”

Win the Lottery’s reach extends beyond documentation into the enhancing the software specifications that the Writing Team writes as well.

“I meet with three Win the Lottery members regularly to gain the perspective of the people who work with the software every day,” added Karen Sorenson, Technical Writer. “I use this knowledge when writing specifications for CU*BASE, our core processing software. Two areas that the Win the Lottery members give special insight are with 5300 Call Reporting and escrow processing.”

Try it at your organization too!

Win the Lottery has grown to be an ongoing success for our CUSO, delivering on its promise to include knowledge in the heads of senior team members into the documentation for all to use.

If your company is thinking about staring a program like Win the Lottery, I encourage you to do so. Use some of the tactics that have worked here for your benefit. Calling people subject matter experts is boring. Spice your program up! Appreciate your knowledgeable staff! Build a little (but not too much) structure into your program, and definitely do not bog people down with mission statements and unnecessary rules.

Try starting a Win the Lottery program and take your documentation strategy up a level. Get everyone involved in succession planning at your organization. You might be surprised at the result!


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