Writing good procedures is an iterative process. The basic steps include developing a process map, drafting the procedure, drafting supporting documents (e.g. forms, job descriptions), testing the documented procedure with the real users, and then continuously updating your process map, procedure, and supporting documents in a PDCA cycle of continual improvement.
A lot of procedures don’t work. Making a good procedure is about overcoming the top ten reasons why policies and procedures don’t work in the first place. How do you make good procedures good? Good procedures have ten important characteristics.
1. Are designed well with a solid structure. A good procedure has a PDCA flow that addresses planning and effectiveness criteria or metrics required for proper operation, the doing or execution and data collection elements of each procedure step, followed by clear check steps against the planned targets, and references to taking action.
2. Define who does what when and where with criteria for success (KPI’s, effectiveness criteria or metrics). Use SIPOC, which is a simple acronym that stands for Supplier, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customer to account for all of the who, what, when, and where elements. Save the whys for training, footnotes or an appendix.
3. Are part of a business system of core business processes. A good procedure does not work in isolation. Other processes may be suppliers of inputs or customers of the procedure’s outputs.
4. Are clear, specific, and to the point. Do not include statements such as “as necessary”, “as applicable”, or “may include”. Too much extra information can confuse your readers. Stick to critical information.
5. Use the Seven C’s to avoid procedure writing errors. We developed the Seven C’s as a handy checklist for procedure writing reviews. When reviewing your procedure, keep in mind the Context, be Consistent, Complete, Identify Controls, think about Compliance, be Correct, and ensure Clarity.
6. Have a solid business case or reason for existence. Every procedure has an operational purpose so make sure the operation being described addresses the business reason for the procedure.
7. Are direct and use active voice construction. Subject -> verb -> noun. e.g. The Operator must lock the control panel. If you use a passive voice then your sentences are longer and readers get confused. Notice the passive voice in the last sentence? Readers get confused by long passive voice sentences. Notice the active voice in the last sentence? Which do you think is better?
8. Include clear references to supporting documents, procedures, records, forms, manuals, work instructions, job aids, job descriptions, or compliance information. Clear references may include title, publication date, document ID, or storage location. Procedures work with these other documents. Leaving out references makes the reader work harder to figure out what reference you are talking about in the procedure.
9. Separate the step-by-step instructions that make up the core of the procedure from the meta-data that typically makes up the header or the beginning of the procedure. Meta-data includes things like: title, policy, purpose, scope, responsibilities, or definitions that may go in the front of the procedure.
10. Are used and updated regularly. If you are not using a procedure then why do you have one? The only way to ensure effective procedures is to use them regularly. How does anybody know if a procedure is used? Check the revision number. If your procedures are 10 years old and they are still on revision one then you are probably not using them. Unless, nothing has changed in your business in the last ten years…must be nice to not have competitors or change.
So, what makes good procedures good? Ensure your procedures work by using an iterative procedure writing process. Start with a process map, draft your procedure and your procedure’s supporting documents, test your procedure with your users, and then repeat the process with continuous updates.