Thursday, June 21, 2018

SPEAK TO THE PROBLEMS 5.1: Making Sure Things Are Done Without Mistakes

Improving Business Processes at

Writing a Procedure
Making Sure Things are Done Without Mistakes and Omissions

Procedures – and their close cousins, policies – can be the curse of our existence.  Sometimes they're too tight and restrictive, and other times they're non-specific and loose.

Procedures have an important effect on an organization.  When written clearly and properly, they help systems and people function better.  If your people know what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and how not to get it wrong, you can reduce frustration and save a tremendous amount of time and effort.

A good procedure is accurate, brief, and readable.  But these qualities aren't always easy to achieve.  Sometimes people do too much, and they end up with a lengthy procedure book that others tend to ignore.

What is a Procedure?
Procedures are the workhorses of a company.  While policies guide the way people make decisions, procedures show the "how to's" for completing a task or process.

Procedures are action oriented.  They outline steps to take, and the order in which they need to be taken.  They're often instructional, and they may be used in training and orientation.  Well-written procedures are typically solid, precise, factual, short, and to the point.

Sometimes you need procedures to be less exact and allow room for personal judgment.  When a procedure is too tight, it can cause confusion.  Since life isn't always simple and clear-cut, some procedures need to allow subjectivity and individual choices.

When Do You Need a Procedure?
Don't create procedures for basic tasks – otherwise they'll be ignored.  The number-one rule of procedure writing is to make sure there's a reason to create them.

A written procedure is necessary only if the issue is important or if there will be a significant benefit from clarifying a process.  Before you begin, ask yourself if people really need or want to know about something.

You need a procedure when a process.
    Is lengthy (example: year-end inventory).
    Is complex (example: benefits administration).
    Is routine, but it's essential that everyone strictly follows rules (example: payroll).
    Demands consistency (example: handling a refund request).
    Involves documentation (example: disciplining a staff member).
    Involves significant change (example: installing a new computer system).
    Has serious consequences if done wrong (example: safety guidelines).

There are "unwritten rules" and informal procedures.  Sometimes these unwritten rules need to be set in procedure.  This may need to happen when:
    Similar questions are asked repeatedly.
    People seem confused.
    There are too many ways that people interpret the procedure.

How Do You Write a Procedure?
Procedures should communicate what readers NEED to know, not just what they WANT to know:
·       how to do the process correctly, faster, or with less waste
·       why they have to do something a certain way
·       where they can go for help
·       what happens if something goes wrong
·       the with technical issues as well as subjective elements.

Step One: Gather Information
·       gather detailed information on the process you're making into a procedure
·       Talk with content experts as well as others who hold key information – long-time staff members, stakeholders, technical staff, and people who will use the procedure
·       Take lots of notes, and then sit down with the information and sort it out
·       get a clear understanding of what's going on in as much detail as possible
·       cut down the information to what the end-user really needs to best understand the process

Step Two: Start Writing
·       write the first draft of your procedure
·       don't worry about exact words and format
·       include the information you need
·       Once you've done that, you can work on the words and organization
o   Write actions out in the order in which they happen.  Start with the first action, and end with the last action
o   Avoid too many words.  Be specific enough to communicate clearly
o   Use the active voice.
o   se lists and bullets
o   Don't be too brief, or you may give up clarity
o   Explain your assumptions, and make sure your assumptions are valid
o   Use jargon and slang carefully
o   Write at an appropriate reading level.

Step Three: Assess Design Elements
Words alone aren't enough to explain the procedure.  Sometimes other elements can help your presentation.  Here are some common formats:
·       Flowchart   – This shows a process as a diagram.
·       Swim Lane Diagrams   - mark out the different streams of activity and clearly show where responsibility for completion of activities transfers from one person to the next.
·       Play script   –list the different staff members with different responsibilities.  Scripts can be especially useful when more than one person is involved in a process.
·       Matrix   – This table connects one variable with another.

Key Points
1.    Well-written procedures help you improve the quality of work within your organization, help you reduce the number of errors and omissions, and help new people perform complex tasks quickly and effectively.

2.    To get the most out of your procedures, follow some simple rules when developing them: Make sure the procedure is necessary. Then write it in a way that's easily understood – using simple, clear words to communicate as briefly as possible.

3.    When it comes to how many procedures you need, sometimes the fewer the better.  So make sure each procedure is absolutely necessary before you spend time creating it.

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