Documenting in Detail: Procedure Procedures

In the previous installment of the Process Pragmatist "Documenting in Detail" series, I introduced a sample Policy on writing Policies (as well as other common types of organizational documentation). In this article, I descend to greater depth of detail on documenting by delivering sample procedures for writing procedures. As with a "policy" policy, a "procedure" procedure is self-describing, and its presentation provides an opportunity to illustrate ways to format procedures.

I offer two different procedures, one linear/sequential and one iterative. Both are written according to the guidelines in the previously presented Documentation Policy. The sequential procedure is the standard, step-by-step approach to procedure writing and makes sense to follow to maximize procedure production efficiency. However, unless you're a technical writer, trainer, or quality expert dedicated to writing organizational procedures, you may find it a bit daunting to tackle.

If you're creating procedures as a small part of larger job responsibilities, the incremental and iterative approach may make matters more manageable. This approach to capturing procedural documentation is a more organic method of documenting a given procedure over time. It’s especially suited to situations where you are the person currently executing the procedure to be documented and have competing demands on your time.

Create & Deploy Standard Operating Procedure

Description

This procedure defines the steps to follow in creating standard operating procedures.

Context

Rationale
In defining standardized work for organizational processes, standard operating procedures (SOPs) provide the basis for continuous improvement efforts to increase organizational efficiency and effectiveness and enable the pursuit of high standards of quality by improving employee communication and coordination, increasing productivity through process improvement and reduction in organizational bottlenecks, and reducing productivity losses (as well as employee and customer frustration) due to avoidable error and associated rework. This procedure aims to ease the creation and adoption of SOPs by defining consistent, best-practices guidance for their generation.
Related
  • Documentation Policy
  • Electronic Document Filing System Policy
  • Style Guide

Audience

All employees of {Organization Name}

Definitions

None.

Procedure

  1. Identify key SOP parameters
    • What is the topic for the SOP?
    • Who is the audience for the SOP?
    • What is the criticality of the SOP?
    • What resource(s) are available to create the SOP?
    • What is the timeframe for deploying the SOP?
  2. Select an approach to creating the SOP
    • Review the 2 options for SOP creation outlined in the following sections
    • Compare the fit of the options against the previously identified parameters
    • Select an approach that fits best with the identified parameters
  3. Follow the selected approach to create & deploy the SOP
    • Reflect and renew
    • What went well in the process/should be preserved?
    • What should be improved for next time?
    • What steps should be taken now?
    • How will you celebrate this accomplishment?
Option 1: Sequential Steps
This linear approach is best suited to situations where:
  • Resources can be dedicated to the creation of the given SOP
  • The SOP is critical to company operations, safety, or compliance
  • The timeframe for producing the SOP is short
  • The audience needs polished and/or special/multi-media presentation
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Step Explanation
1.
Prepare
1.1
Identify topic & scope What will the procedure cover? What’s not included? Capture this in a concise summary of the contents to serve as the procedure Description.
1.2.
Identify purpose What’s driving the creation of the procedure? Review the Documentation Drivers. Capture the purpose in a concise statement of the motivation for executing the procedure to serve as the procedure Rationale. Keep the purpose in mind when selecting a presentation format and writing the procedure.
1.3.
Identify audience For whom is the documentation written? Capture a list of the role(s) or position(s) responsible for executing the procedure to serve as the procedure Audience. Keep the audience in mind when selecting a presentation format and writing the procedure.
1.4.
Choose presentation format Given the topic, scope, purpose, & audience, -elect a suitable format for the procedure (see Formats section of Documentation Policy):
  • Step-By-Step Outline,
  • Step-By-Step Table,
  • Checklist,
  • Slide deck,
  • Flowchart,
  • Screencast,
  • Video tutorial.
1.5.
Review style guide Review the style guide from the Documentation Policy.
2.
Compose
2.1
Compose first draft Keeping in mind the needs of the audience, the emphasis dictated by the purpose, and the best practices embodied in the style guide, write a first draft.
2.2
Edit the draft After a break, come back to the draft with fresh eyes. If possible, offer the draft to others familiar with the procedure and/or style guide to comment on. Edit the procedure to conform to the best practices in the style guide
3.
Test
3.1
Test the procedure If possible, test the procedure with someone with the relevant skills for identified role/position but who has not completed the procedure before. Observe them performing the procedure according to the documentation and note any areas of difficulty. Solicit feedback for additional improvements.
3.2
Repeat Edit/Test cycle until acceptable execution ensured Repeat steps 7-8 until acceptable execution reliably achieved.
4. Deploy
4.1
Formalize Complete all sections of the presentation format and route for approvals as necessary, as specified in the Documentation Policy.
4.2
Publish & distribute Publish the documentation and distribute to the audience with any necessary instructions to begin implementation.
5.
Maintain
5.1
Establish maintenance schedule Set the necessary reminder to review the procedure for updates or termination per the Documentation Policy.
Option 2: Incremental & Iterative
This organic method of capturing a given procedure over time is best suited to situations where:
  • The person documented has competing demands on time.
  • The timeframe for deployment is flexible.
  • The SOP’s criticality is low enough that initially incomplete or unclear instructions can be tolerated.
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Step Explanation
1.
Jump In
  • The most important thing is to just start!
  • Think about your audience, and a suitable presentation format, but don’t agonize over the choices.
2.
Start Small
  • The next time you're doing the procedure, open up a new document and start capturing the first steps.
  • Give yourself permission to be sloppy and incomplete the first time.
3.
Build Iteratively
  • When you perform the procedure the next time, fill in a few more steps.
  • The time after that, add in details.
  • The time after that, add in exceptions.
  • After that, edit for clarity.
4.
Test & Refine
  • Hand the documentation off for testing to see if it makes sense to someone else.
  • Observe and refine.
  • Incorporate feedback.
5.
Formalize & Deploy
  • Put the finishing touches on the SOP per the Documentation policy
  • Distribute & delegate.

Resources

Control

Responsibility
Position / Organizational Unit
Responsible
Approve
Consult
Inform








Revisions
Date Revised Author(s) Date Approved Approver(s) Date Next Review












While they capture the essence of creating procedures, both options identified in this sample procedure are written at a fairly high level of abstraction to make them applicable to a variety of organizations and documentation media. An even more useful procedure would descend to the level of work instructions, providing detailed guidance on the concrete steps to create a given procedure for a given audience with the given institutions's tools of choice. For example, if your organization uses Google Docs extensively, then the procedure would describe how to create a new Google Doc from an existing procedure template, where to save it, who to share it with, etc. so that an individual with the appropriate work qualifications but no prior experience in your organization could execute the procedure.

In the next Process Pragmatist article, we'll start to explore some of those nitty-gritty particulars. I'll continue  "Documenting in Detail" with an exploration of practical ways to efficiently organize and distribute your policies and procedures.

In the meantime, please let me know how you would improve these "procedure" procedures using the comments section following this post or the contact form on the About page.

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