How To Write A Procedure That Works!
What does that mean... a procedure that works?
Few people write down how to do different jobs in their business. Fewer still write them in a way where they are useful and used.
The upside to writing procedures is that if you get it right, you can continue to grow and not have to revisit these jobs. As you hire, as you get further downstream from these tasks, as you scale... you won't be the one training each new person how to do things... IF you write procedures that work.
Better still, remember that mistake you made that caused you to add a double-check in your approach, or changed how you make a part? Wouldn't it be nice if everyone did that check too so you didn't have to experience that same mistake with each new member, each new customer, or each new order? Writing a procedure that works prevents repeating mistakes and engrains lessons learned into the process.
Writing down how to do something is one thing... structuring it in a way that gets used, can be found, and is referenced is an entirely different matter. I am going to show you how to do the latter.
So, what is a procedure?
This is how I explain it:
Its how you would walk an experienced person through something at your company.
It is one task, done in continuous fashion, by one role, at one time.
Let's look at a common process all companies have (or at least should have), billing. Billing takes place over multiple time horizons. However, part of that process is sending out invoices. This is done by one person at a single sitting, and thus meets our criteria for a Procedure.
Another part of my definition is an experienced person. Procedures are not explaining how to get into software, where a desk in the building is, or what we are shipping... they assume you are verbally and quickly walking someone through an activity who knows their way around. So we are talking about something like:
- Get on the ERP
- Go to the Sales Order module
- Look up the open sales orders
- Go to the computer
- Go to the list of applications and open up the program called "Acumatica"
- Use your sign-in and click "Login"
- On the left-hand side there will be a button labeled "Sales Orders", click it.
Having these written out allows anyone to be able to do the key tasks in a business. Now, even when someone is sick, busy, or leaves - your company can march forward!
It is best to use a template to quickly write these out, below is the template I have found most useful. It is the simplest form with all the points I need for someone doing it.
The first thing you need to do is to describe what the procedure is. This will help people later figure out if they are reading the right thing! These are simple, one-sentence explanations.
- sending out invoices to customers
- recording the daily production numbers
- verifying customer information before producing their first work order
When I name these, I name them the sentence I would say to someone if I wanted it done. This makes them easy to search later for anyone at the company. If you ask yourself "What would someone search for if they needed to do this procedure?" That is what you should name it. Not something like Billing -> Invoice 2.3
- Invoice the Customers
- Ship parts
- Send the Open Orders out
Here are some examples from our Canekast Operations Manual.
The other key item is to share what the outcome will be. This makes it clear what the state of the company or the process will be afterward. I have found that this is one of the most important parts of writing a procedure. It makes sure that what you are expecting to be done, gets done. It also prevents people from stopping halfway through, thinking they have completed it, and not realizing the purpose. Last, it helps new procedure followers understand when something has gone wrong. They may follow all the steps, but never realize the outcome... telling them that something didn't go right. So, how does this person know they are done?
- All open invoices that were not previously sent out, have been sent to all customers via email or mail, according to their preference
- A look at the production dashboard will show all jobs performed, work done, and molds made for the day, starting with the initial 1st shift, and including the 2nd shift
2. Explain it
Now its time to break down what to do. Here we use a numbered list and share the steps to complete the procedure. I like to write these as if I was sitting, explaining to an experienced individual at our company how to do something.
- Reference the part number on the job router
- Lookup that part number for the open shipments
- Find the order you are shipping against
- Ship the order in the system
- Print 2 copies of the bar-coded shipment details
- Place one on one of the boxes of the shipment
- Place the other on the job router
- Put the packing slip on top of the job router
- Place in the bin to be scanned for later
- Place the shipment by the door to be picked up later that day
If you worked at the company, these would all be pretty straightforward. If you needed a deep dive into "how to ship a part in the system" or "how to find open sales order items", these would be work instructions, and linked directions from that bullet point.
Written, Video, GIFs
I always write out the steps, but I often record a quick video or GIF to place in the instructions for further reference. The tools I use for that are:
note: Gifox is my go-to here. Placing quick GIFs of the screen while doing something is extremely useful. I use these in slack all the time when questions are asked as well.
After writing it out, go back and look at all the tools and access one will need in order to complete the procedure, and list them out. I call this references in my procedures. This helps someone know right away if they need something before moving forward.
Examples might include:
- Access to the Financial Dropbox folder
- ERP shipping access
- Routing Excel File
- Customer email address
- Daily Mold Count Numbers
Add the Trigger
This is the most forgotten and yet useful piece of the procedure: "When do I do this?". The truth is, a guide on how to do something is almost useless without knowing when or why. If I am new, and sitting there, how do I know to do this? There is always a Trigger.
The two important types of triggers are:
- Event Triggers
- Time Triggers
Event Triggers include things like
- The phone rings
- You get a customer complaint via email
- A part is done being produced
Time Triggers include:
- Every Monday
- Each Quarter
- By 9 a.m. each day
Writing this out tells people when do to it. Every time you write the trigger, you should also keep a table of all triggers, roles, and a link to the procedure. So I always open up my Trigger table and add it there too (personally, I use a macro that automatically does this).
Add the Role
Similarly to the Trigger, it is important to add a Role. Who is supposed to do this? I do not use names because names change, and this would cause a constant revision of procedures. Instead, use roles, and then have a Roles Table that it links to explain who is in each role. Then, as long as you keep that table updated, you should be good.
As an aside, I also create position "cheat sheets" for the company. I usually link to key procedures and/or triggers in those cheat sheets to give someone who is "filling in" a quick view of what they are responsible for, and should expect to do, or triggers to look for. This makes it easy to get an idea of what the position/role responsibility is, within a few minutes.
Every procedure should have someone who is assigned to keep it up to date and "owns" that document. This should be a role in the procedure. A core responsibility of everyone in the company should then be to keep their procedures up to date.
Set an Update Cadence
Keeping these up to date is key. Some software allows you to build in "decaying documents" that auto-ask to be reviewed. Even if not, finding a report or list of documents sorted by "last modified" date can help you find some to review each week or month.
Using a template for these makes it easier.
There are many other powerful pieces to our "documentation system" such as auto organizing, change reporting, slack-based updates for procedures in key teams, etc. However, this gives you a look at how to structure and write procedures that work. That is
- They have all the details to be completed correctly
- They are searchable by the person when they need to use them
- They are clear on when, and triggers can be searched
- They are clear on who should be doing them
- They stay up to date