Learn to Write Effective Procedures – Training Course

You have procedures but they’re long-winded, out-of-date and nobody uses them?

Or your processes are not written down and everyone does their own thing?

Start on the path to order and consistency with a 2-day procedure writing training course at your site where your team learn how to create effective procedures.

Learn to write procedures like this
Learn to write procedures like this

What makes one procedure difficult to follow and another one a joy to use? The answer is not simple, even though the result is. It’s a combination of useful information, clear wording, carefully chosen photos and diagrams, and an easily-scanned layout. This practical 2-day course covers how to write effective procedures, including exercises and coaching, where participants practice rewriting current procedures and creating procedures from scratch.

What does the course cover?

Training and assessing against a procedure
Training and assessing against a procedure
  • What makes an effective procedure
  • What information to include and what to put elsewhere
  • Organizing information: sequence and grouping
  • Being accurate and specific
  • Using photos and diagrams to convey information effectively
  • Writing clearly
  • Information-gathering
  • Controlling risk
  • Consultation and reviewing
  • Document management

Book a procedure writing training course now: call (+61) 0412 302 055 or email rosemary.odonoghue@gmail.com

Free SOP Template

Looking for a simple template for work instructions and SOPs? Download your free SOP template here TW Procedure Template . Learn how to use it from my book Clarity out of Complexity: Writing Effective Business Procedures by Rosemary O’Donoghue, available on Amazon, or book a 2 day training course at your site.

Need help? Call me (+61) 0412 302 055 or email me at rosemary.odonoghue@gmail.com

Going Lean: the First Step

Where do you start your Lean program? Most Lean practitioners would agree that you need to start by engaging people. How to engage people, however, may depend on the situation, and the driver for change. One thing that is clear, however, is that you can’t streamline processes and reduce waste if you don’t know what your processes are. If you think that process mapping may not seem too exciting in terms of engaging people, think again. While I would not suggest going down the path of complete Value Stream Mapping as an initial action, a simpler identification of processes and tasks can yield some quick (and big) wins.

Creating a flow chart or a structured list of tasks is a great way to involve people. They don’t feel pressured or defensive because you are simply asking them to tell you what they do. Your key question is: What tasks do you do? Often they find it rewarding, because they suddenly see how much they do, as well as gaining an appreciation of the skills they have. If you ask that question of every person (or a sampling of each role if you have several people fulfilling the same role), you not only involve everyone, but you also capture everything that expends effort. Using the results you can map out processes and tasks. Suddenly you can see how the organisation works.

Waste frequently occurs because people cannot see the big picture of how the business functions. They may be doing redundant tasks, or redundant steps in a task, simply because “that’s how we’ve always done it.” Most likely things have changed, the organisation has evolved and no one has stood back and looked at whether “the way we do things” is still appropriate. This attitude is particularly prevalent in organisations with longstanding loyal employees, but it can also occur because habits have been passed on to new employees, who haven’t enough experience to question them.

Once you have the big picture, you can start work on seeing where the value lies, where the bottlenecks are, and, best of all, how you can improve the way the organisation works, as well as improving individual processes.

Call me for help in mapping out your processes. Rosemary O’Donoghue +61 (0) 412 302 055 or email me: rosemary.odonoghue@gmail.com

Why do you need procedures for your business?

What are some of the reasons you need procedures? Be honest. Is it because:

• You need them to meet legal, regulatory or accreditation requirements

• Your business is a jumble. You’re not sure who’s doing what or how

• When new people start you don’t know how you need to train them

• Everyone does the same job in different ways and you know not all of them are the best way

• You want to lean up your business, cut costs and unnecessary work

• There are too many stuff-ups and you want to prevent them

• You want to be able to sell your business and you need to show how it operates

• You want to see what you’re doing that adds the most value and focus on that

•Experienced people are leaving and taking their knowledge out the door

• You want to highlight hazards to improve safety or minimise incidents

Whatever your reason, the path to clarity and order is the same. Read my Methodology page, followed by Methodology articles for more detail or call or email for help +61 (0)419 24 3636 or rosemary.odonoghue@gmail.com

Thoroughly risk-assess your workplace

You have the job of ensuring risk assessments are performed for the business. Where do you start, and where do you finish? The trick is to start with a helicopter view, then follow down to the detail, similar to the process you use to map out procedures.

Workcover divides hazards into 5 categories:

  • physical – noise, radiation, light, vibration
  • chemical – poisons, dusts
  • biological – viruses, plants, parasites
  • mechanical/electrical – slips, trips and falls, tools, electrical equipment
  • psychological – fatigue, violence, bullying

I’d like to add a 6th category: environmental impact. For this one, however, rather than looking at whether our employees are safe, we look at protecting the earth and all the other people who inhabit it. This is usually an important component of any company’s risk management strategy, and is often monitored by government and regulatory bodies.

What we are going to do now is work our way down from a big picture view to a detailed analysis of risk. At every stage we consider all the possible hazards.

You can start by looking at your environment and determining if you have any of these hazards. It’s not difficult. What sort of climate are you in? Are you sheltered from the weather, the extremes of hot or cold or wet or dehydration, or wind and storms, or floods and tidal waves? Is there sufficient oxygen and is the air free from dust and chemicals? Are you protected from animals and pests or violence from humans? (Is your plant in a war zone?) Are you positioned near a cliff, or a river or unstable land or buildings, or in an earthquake zone? Hopefully you’ve selected a worksite without severe environmental hazards. Whilst these seem pretty obvious, if you are accustomed to living in a dangerous environment, it is possible to overlook these hazards and the need to control them for your employees. Also, is positioning the business here going to cause significant environmental impact?

Look at your premises. Are they fit for purpose? Are there any potential hazards associated with them? Have they been built safely? Are the construction materials safe and unlikely to harbour pests or bacteria? Is the flooring even and easily cleaned, but not slippery? Is there adequate lighting? Are there any unguarded holes or ditches or confined spaces? Is there adequate space to move around equipment? Are heights and stairs well-guarded? Are walkways marked and pedestrians separated from mobile equipment? Are large vessels built and maintained to ensure they contain materials, and bunded to contain potential leaks or leaching of chemicals by rainwater?

Many companies don’t specifically evaluate how their human resources policies impact on risk, but they are crucial in not only managing risk in this age of increasing litigation, but also in maintaining a positive workplace, which has all sorts of benefits to the company. Evaluate your policies and company culture. Do you have well-communicated company values? Do you have a clear and enforced policy on discrimination and sexual harassment? Do you expect your employees to be courteous to other employees and suppliers as well as to customers? Do you look after your employees, provide thorough training, encourage a work-life balance, monitor and discourage regular long hours and show they are appreciated? Is the workplace clean and aesthetically pleasing? Do you provide adequate facilities? Do you spread the workload to minimise stress?

The next step is to evaluate all of your equipment. This is nice and straightforward, too, although it may be tedious. Take an inventory of all plant, equipment and materials in your workplace, and I mean all. Include simple tools, raw materials, however harmless they may seem, and utilities such as power, water, steam, gas and sewer. Now you can look at each one of them in turn. Are moving parts and pinchpoints on machines well-guarded? Are noise, dust, chemicals, radiation and harmful biological materials contained? Are tools in good order and not likely to snap or slip? Is piping appropriate for the chemical being carried and in good order? Is regular maintenance scheduled to ensure equipment remains in good order?

Many people feel that risk assessment is complete at this stage, but can you see why this is not effective? Most incidents do not occur when people are just standing in a workplace, minding their own business. Most incidents are the result of actions, when people are performing the jobs. So to thoroughly assess risks you need to evaluate potential hazards from working in the business, actually doing the job. To do this, you need to know all of the tasks and all of the steps for each task. In other words, you need to have thorough, written procedures before you can do a thorough risk assessment.

Following your procedures you consider the likely hazards associated with performing each step. This is where most manual handling hazards occur, which is not explicitly covered in the hazard groups. When assessing hazards associated with performing tasks, you also need to consider what can go wrong and the instinctive reactions that may occur. For example, if something is about to fall, people instinctively reach to catch it, even if it is too heavy for them or red-hot. Consider instinctive responses such as if machinery jams or materials are caught. How many workplace injuries have occurred when material has jammed in poorly guarded machines and someone has reached in to clear it?

Once your risk assessment for each procedure has been completed, and you have decided on controls, you then need to highlight the hazards and write the controls into your procedures. Unfortunately this means you need to write your procedures, perform risk assessments, then revise procedures. This is not such a bad thing, because in doing so you can improve both your risk management and your processes.

Remember, for thorough, realistic risk assessments you not only need to identify hazards in the workplace, you need to define every task that is being done and evaluate the risks associated with performing every step of every task, considering what could go wrong at every step. Write your procedures and apply risk management to each one, then rewrite procedures incorporating controls. And ensure you revise your risk assessments and your procedures if any changes are made to processes.

For help with writing procedures, read my book, call me on +61(0)412 302055 or email me at: rosemary@techwriting.net.au

What procedures do you really need?

Sometimes it is tricky to work out what procedures are really needed. Some companies go so overboard that the procedures become laughable. For example, do you need a procedure on how to use a wheelbarrow? Well, what are you carrying in the wheelbarrow, and what are the expected skills of the person using the wheelbarrow? If you employ an experienced gardener, and it is not used to transport anything hazardous, it is reasonable to expect that people can use it safely and without too much instruction. Given general manual handling training and common sense, a procedure for using a wheelbarrow would not be necessary. Do you need a procedure on how to make a cup of coffee? If it is instant coffee, probably not. If you have a fan-dangled coffee machine, where you use steam to manually aerate the milk, or you are employing people with special needs, then maybe you do.

Questions to ask:

  • Is a new recruit likely to need to refer to a procedure? If so, you will need one. If people are recruited with a certain education or skills level (such as a tradesperson), then you probably don’t need to cover how to operate a common drill, but if you have specialized equipment you would need a procedure to cover it
  • How much risk is associated with using the equipment? If there is a serious risk of injury or damage, then you will need a procedure to ensure all risks are identified and controlled. Whilst you could imagine incidents that occur with using a wheelbarrow, it would be reasonable to assume most people could use one reasonably safely, without specialized instruction. (You may, however, consider general training on manual handling, which most reasonably intelligent people could apply to using a wheelbarrow.)

Beware of having procedures for simplistic tasks. If you assume people are idiots, you can be sure they’ll live up to your expectations. On the other hand, put yourself in the shoes of a new recruit when identifying procedures, not an experienced person. Don’t assume they know things that are not common to everyday life, unless they have specific training in your field.

Should the person who does the job write the procedure?

The popular wisdom about writing procedures used to be: “the person who does the job should write the procedure” and some people still believe it. Certainly the person who does the job should be the person who tells how it is done. They should be the one who performs it for the person writing the procedure, but oftentimes the person who does the job and is good at the job, does not have the skills required to write a good procedure.

Writing a good procedure is not simply a matter of “telling how it is done.” Yes it is a sequential set of steps, but how to write those steps, and knowing what to include and what to leave out requires considerable skill.

What makes a good procedure? A good procedure does the job it is intended to do. What job do we want it to do? For the small business owner, often you want procedures so that the business can function without you, so that you can focus on growing the business. You may also want to write procedures to figure out just what it is you do, because the business has grown organically and is no longer structured. Or you may simply want to train new people and you’re not sure what they need to know. For the manager in a business large or small, you want consistency in how processes are performed, so that customers receive a uniform quality product or service ensuring you always meet their expectations. When staff move on, you want to capture their expertise and pass it on seamlessly to the next employee. To meet all of these requirements, a good procedure defines the steps of the process clearly and concisely, in the order that they are performed, captures tips about quality and safety,  and is easily followed by a person who may be new to the organisation.

When creating procedures, you have a couple of options. You can train your people up with the skills to write procedures, or you can get someone in who already has the skills to write procedures. If your people have good computer, writing and communication skills, they can learn to write procedures in a reasonable timeframe. You will then need to allow them time off doing the job to write the procedures, because good procedures do take time to write. But don’t expect that people who are good at their job instinctively know how to communicate their expertise in writing. Expect that they will need coaching, guidance and time to hone their skills. If you don’t have that time or your people don’t have that expertise, a skilled technical writer can capture best practice and write user-friendly procedures by watching your top people perform the job and asking relevant questions.

See the Techwriting Methodology page for more tips or call me for help on +61 (0)419243636

Eliminating your top frustrations

What causes your business the most pain? What really irks you in terms of waste or annoyance?

When we asked small business owners about their top frustrations, there were 2 topics that kept recurring: finding, training and keeping good staff, and getting some time out for themselves. Of course, these 2 topics are related. If you have good employees who know their job well and whom you can trust, you can take time off and let the business run itself for a while. But how do you get to that point, and why do so many business owners find it so hard?

Probably you started your business because you were great at what you do. Even now, you probably can do a better job than any of your employees. You’re worried that if you go away, things will slip. Maybe you’re right, but maybe it’s worth it for the break. Then again, if you lose too much business, maybe it isn’t. So how do we sort these problems?

To be able to take time off and be confident that you will not take unacceptable losses by doing so, you need to be sure that your personnel know what to do and are capable of making good decisions. For now, let’s concentrate on how to free yourself from having to be available all the time and assume your employees are essentially capable and trustworthy.

Employees are forced to depend on you if:

• There are some tasks that only you know how to do
• Their roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined
• Processes are not clearly defined and documented
• You are the expert and your employees have limited technical or product knowledge
• Customers keep asking for you
• There is no one who can fill in if someone is away

Before you can safely take time off, you need to fix these situations.

The tasks only you know how to do

The solution to this is pretty obvious. You need to identify those tasks that only you know how to do and train someone else to do them.

As the business owner, it is likely that you are the first one there in the morning and you open up the place, check stock levels and turn equipment on. At the end of the day you probably close off the till, run reports and do the banking and backups. When things are busy, you usually hop in and get your hands dirty doing whatever your business does. If there is a difficult technical problem, you will probably be the final support person. Whatever it is that you know how to do that no one else does, document and train someone else to do. Write a procedure for start-of-day and end-of-day. If you know you get a rush-hour of customers at a particular time, train your office or accounts people in the rudiments of serving customers. They will probably welcome the break from staring into a computer screen. And as you tackle difficult technical problems, document them and pass on your experience at your next staff meeting so that next time they won’t need you to solve it.

Roles and responsibilities

Do your employees know what tasks they are each responsible for, or do you need to regularly point out things for them to do? Will they sit on their arses if you are not around to point out to them the things that need doing? Do they know which issues they have the authority to make decisions on and which they should defer to you?

One person should have primary responsibility for each regular or intermittent task. That doesn’t mean only one person ever does it, or knows how to do it. It just means one person is responsible for ensuring it gets done.

To define roles and responsibilities, you need 2 lists: a list of people who work in your business and a list of tasks that need to be done. You may like to divide these tasks into daily, weekly, monthly and annual. You may also like to divide them up into categories such as acquiring stock, stock management, marketing, sales, asset maintenance, accounts, personnel services and operations. Some of these categories, such as operations, may need to be subdivided. In an established business, the easiest way to come up with the list is often to simply ask each of your people what they do each day, each week, each month, each year or one-off jobs that they have needed to do.

Once you have your lists, split tasks up amongst your people in a way that makes best use of their talents and their time. Next, give them a bit of freedom to improve the way things are done. Allow the key person for each process to define or modify the procedure, in consultation with others if appropriate, to come up with the best way of doing it. For some responsibilities you might give them a budget to spend how they feel most fit. For example, one of your employees may be made responsible for maintaining the building. This may include keeping the premises (including the kitchen and toilet) clean, reorganising shelving and stock and ensuring equipment is well-maintained. Sit down with them and work out a realistic budget, listing all of the things that you’d expect the budgeted amount to cover. Ensure you break the budget up into, say, expected monthly spend, so that it doesn’t all disappear at the beginning of the year. From then on, the only time your staff need to consult you is if they foresee it going over budget. To reassure yourself, you can ask them to report monthly to you so that things don’t get out of hand without you realising.

Documenting processes

Once again, it is pretty obvious how to solve this one. Often the hard part is knowing where to start. Most businesses write a procedure either when someone goes on leave (or leaves the business) and they realise no one else knows how to do it, or when there is an incident. This is not the ideal way, because you will end up with gaps and overlaps. The best approach is, as already mentioned, to take a structured approach when you define roles and responsibilities. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. If a piece of equipment comes with good, clear instructions and there is an external training course available at reasonable cost, you probably don’t need to write an internal procedure on it. Or if you do your accounts using a well-known software package, you may need only a checklist to ensure all tasks are completed. However, if there is a complex process that only one person in your business (such as you) does on a regular basis, then you definitely need a clear, detailed procedure and you should train at least one other person to be able to do it in their (or your) absence. When working out what procedures you need, in addition to tasks, you need to consider what can go wrong and how you want people to handle those things. For example, you will need emergency procedures, even though, with good procedures you plan not to have emergencies. You should also consider things that can go wrong that are outside of your control, such as power outages.

Set up a folder for procedures, organised in a logical way, and ensure people know they are available and where to find them. Also, review them regularly. They are no good to you if no one can find them when they are needed, or they are not up-to-date.

You are the expert

If you are the expert and you do not pass on your knowledge, you can forget having time off. Somehow, you need to pass your knowledge on. You will probably do this randomly through the course of your work. Your employees watch you and listen to you and learn your product knowledge, if they happen to see or hear you. But there will always be gaps, and in any case, if you’re a smart cookie, you’ll be continuing to learn.

To overcome this, you need to define what a person needs to know to do the job. If they are selling products, they will need to know the products and be familiar with their uses. Once again, we can do this in a structured manner. Categorise your products. Perhaps you deal in pumps, pipes and fittings. What are the different types of pumps you sell? How are each of the different pumps used? What are the pros and cons of each type? What sizes do the pipes come in, and what materials are they made of? What are their typical uses? What fittings are available? Look at each category and work out what your employees need to know about each of the categories.

Then start training your people, and when you think they are trained, check their knowledge. Send them to supplier training courses then ask them to present what they learnt to the rest of the staff. Run regular training sessions yourself, then listen to them talk to customers, or get them to train other staff. Run regular toolbox meetings and pass on what you’ve learnt this week. Ask each of your staff to come up with one new thing they’ve learnt since the last meeting. Make all of your people experts.

Customers keep asking for you

Naturally you are passionate about your business and about customer service and you have developed fantastic rapport with your customers. But if you are the only one your customers will deal with, you might as well remain a sole trader. How do you wean your customers off you and get your staff to take care of them? First, make sure you introduce your staff to your customers. After a friendly chat, ask your staff to look after them and head for the office, looking busy. Make some phone calls if necessary. You can even hide when you see them coming, or get your staff to tell them you are tied up with another customer and can they help them? Continually tell your customers about your wonderful staff, so that your customers feel confident with them. And if you’re away for the week and truly unavailable, and they are well looked-after while you are away, chances are they won’t ask for you next time.

There is no one to fill in

It doesn’t make sense to be away during the busiest times of the year, so you may have to plan your holidays around the quieter times. You need to plan ahead and train up your regular staff to be able to do your jobs, and organise some casual staff to cover the simpler jobs. In a small business, think about relatives or friends who may like a bit of extra pocket money. In some cases you may need to use the services of a labour hire company, but if you do, ensure you have adequate procedures and training for them to get to know your processes. Allocate them the simpler tasks, so that you don’t need to do too much training, plus a regular “buddy” to train them and keep an eye on them.

Overall, the key to getting time off is having a structured, well-documented business with reliable, well-trained employees. Then, even if you don’t take a holiday, you can free up time to work on strategies to grow and improve your business.

If you’d like some help or advice call me: Rosemary O’Donoghue +61(0)412 302055 or email me rosemary@techwriting.net.au