Create a digital service manual with this template

Posted on November 22, 2016 by - Editorial & Brand, Governance & Workflow, Strategy


Digital service manual on a laptop screen


Earlier this year, I wrote about how we are creating and implementing a digital content strategy at IREX, an international NGO with offices in 20 countries and participants in more than 100.

Collaboration is an essential ingredient in any content strategy. But because IREX’s staff members are distributed across five continents, it’s all the more important for us to coordinate our work in an efficient and effective way.

To help solve this challenge, we created a digital service manual that outlines roles, processes, guidelines, a digital roadmap, and more. We launched the manual several months ago, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Employees from around the world have praised the manual’s usefulness, and digital projects have unfolded much more smoothly.

In this post, I’ll briefly describe the types of content that we included in our manual and the steps we took to develop it. I’ll also share a template for content strategists and digital directors to use when drafting their own digital service manuals.

A core set of digital guidelines and processes

At the moment, our digital service manual includes the following information:

  • An overview of the digital team’s purpose, strategy, composition, and roles
  • Our guiding principles for digital projects
  • Our digital objectives
  • Our digital user groups
  • Our process for prioritizing digital projects
  • A digital roadmap with action items and a schedule
  • Guidelines and procedures for creating approved websites, social media accounts, and other digital properties
  • Guidelines and procedures for creating routine digital content
  • Guidelines for managing a social media account
  • Links to our style guides and templates
  • Information about how we manage’s home page

The manual is a living document—a starting point rather than a final product. We expect to add more resources on a rolling basis as the organization’s needs evolve.

I’ve found that it’s useful to compile all of this information in a single place for reference, but we don’t expect employees to read the entire document. Instead, we created a series of one-page handouts to highlight key information from the manual. When questions come up, we share individual handouts as links, attachments, or hard copies, depending on the situation.

How we created our digital service manual

We started by studying the team’s excellent Government Service Design Manual. We also consulted resources by Paul Boag, including “The Digital Service Manual. Beyond Strategy” and “How to Build a Service Manual & Save Your Sanity.”

Next we created an outline and began to draft content. We shared early drafts with staff members for feedback and beta tested the handouts with employees as opportunities arose. This input helped us validate our approach and tailor our work to the organization’s needs.

We also sent a draft of the manual to members of our leadership team for input and approval. By that point, there was broad agreement about the manual’s content; it crystalized many of the decisions that the organization had already made while developing a digital content strategy.

A template to help you get started

Each organization should tailor its digital service manual to meet the organization’s unique needs. However, many digital teams could benefit from documenting a similar set of information. Here is a template to help you get started:

Template for a digital service manual (DOCX, 244 KB)

In the template, I highlighted some placeholder text in yellow. I also added some suggestions for digital teams in gray italicized text. I’d recommend replacing the yellow text and deleting the gray text before sharing a first draft with stakeholders.

Good luck, and please let me know if you’d like to compare notes!

Josh TongJosh Tong is a content strategist in Washington, DC. He helps colleagues create powerful content through research, strategy, and implementation.

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“Create a Digital Service Manual with This Template” by Josh Tong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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