Procedures 101

posted in: Processes 0

When should you write down how you want things done by employees? When:

  • You keep explaining the same process over and over.
  • A certain process occurs so seldom that everyone forgets how to do it.
  • You want everyone to do things the same way.
  • You want to set a baseline so you can improve the process.

The goal is to write down all the steps for a process so that everyone does it the same way, consistently, and provide a baseline for improvements. This helps with training, tricky details, and quality. (A procedure is a formalized way to accomplish a process.)

When you decide to write down how a process works, first break it down into manageable pieces, based on how much you have to explain as well as logical transitions. If the production process includes five steps and many of your employees are new, you might write five different procedures; if your employees are all experienced or you provide lots of training for new people, one procedure might be plenty. If you put too much in, employees will get lost in the details and lose track of the process; too little and they will be confused about what to do next or how.

Think through the process one step at a time. Watch your most experienced and best employees perform the process. If it is a process you know well, explain it to someone who has never seen it and let them write it down, asking questions until they have all the steps. Follow the product, not the people or the machines, and indicate hand-offs. Include why, when, who, what, where, and how. List:

  • Who is responsible for each step and who is responsible for approvals
  • Criteria for approvals
  • Safety concerns
  • Where input comes from and where output goes
  • Where paperwork goes

List the steps but not how to do them. Do not include all the steps required to enter something into software, or similar level of details. These details come in training or in work instructions. (Usually work instructions are more flexible documents that are easier to update any time the software is updated or the bolt size changes.)

Once the procedure is written, you can start improving the process. Ask your top people for suggestions. Ask a new hire where they are confused or unsure, or what seems unnecessarily complicated to them. Look at where you have routine problems and see if you can fix them. Without the baseline of a written procedure, it is hard to figure out how to improve the process – and hard to get everyone to perform it the same way.

One special set of procedures are internal or financial controls, which ensure that no one person controls an entire cash stream; it is frequently referred to as segregation of duties. For instance, you shouldn’t have one person who opens the envelopes, records the checks, endorses the checks, prepares the deposits, makes the deposits, and reconciles the bank statements. (And, for nonprofit donations, sends the acknowledgements.) Not only does having one person do all of it make it easy for them to commit fraud, it also makes it easy for someone to accuse them of fraud; segregation of duties protects both the organization and the individuals.

Not every process needs to be written down and not every organization needs to write procedures, but if you get tired of retraining and answering questions, or if you want a baseline to improve the quality of your product, procedures can be a huge help.